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Meetings are ubiquitous in today’s organizational culture. Some organizations even have meetings to plan future meetings.  But what does all this meeting time mean to your organization as a whole? Or, perhaps more telling, what does it mean to the country and the economy? Data pulled from professorial and private studies give insight into what all of these meetings really mean.

It may not come as a surprise, but meetings are costly, lack preparation, and most frequently start at 11am.

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Keep in mind that the average $338 salary cost per meeting is an adjusted average that does not include high-paid CEOs and other business leaders. Those meetings can cost upwards of $20,000 per event.

Staff, task force and information sharing meetings are the most common meeting type. They account for 88% of total meetings held.

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Of course, many meetings are certainly a blend of “Task Force” and “Brainstorming” and many people probably consider their “Staff Meetings” to be “Ceremonial”.

These meetings occur a lot. 11 million meetings are held in the United States each day on average. That adds up quickly to 55 million a week and 220 million a month. By the end of the year, the meeting total is well over a billion.

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As you can imagine, not all participants in those millions of meetings are happy to be there. The average nine participants in a meeting consider a third of the time spent in the meeting to be unproductive. That’s a lot of wasted time.

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Perhaps one of the reasons that so much meeting time is considered unproductive is that so few meetings actually lead to any decisions. The most common complaint people had about meetings is that they were inconclusive. The next most frequent complaints, that participants are poorly prepared and/or organized, don’t help either.

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Finally, the most common meeting length is somewhere between 31-60 minutes. While this likely occurs because it often takes a little while to get everyone on the same page, it probably also derives from the fact that 30 and 60 minutes are the time blocks selectable on calendaring apps. Parkinson’s law claims that work expands to fill the amount of time allotted to it. So, if 60 minutes are allotted to a meeting, that’s probably how long you’ll be there.

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Do the meetings at your organization reflect the stats above? How do you compare to the average? Have any meeting insights of your own?  Let us know in the comments below.

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Sources:
- Been Kim & Cynthia Rudin, Learning About Meetings, arXiv:1306.1927.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Table B-3, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t19.htm (accessed 4/18/15).
- Dave Johnson, How Much do Useless Meetings Cost?, CBS MoneyWatch (February 16, 2012).
- Nicholas C. Romano & Jay F. Nunamaker, Meeting Analysis: Findings from Research and Practice, 0-7695-0981-9/01.

Categories: Best Practices Meetings

35 Comments

  1. Brendan

    04-20-2015 Reply

    I find people schedule meetings for a minimum of 30mins as thats the default setting in the likes of Outlook and as the meeting is in for 30mins they see this as a target. Most people don’t realise you can manually input a 15min slot.

    Meetings should be short and sweet. Not waffling on until the time is up.

    • Thomas

      04-21-2015

      That said but from my experience in business management, a fifteen minute meeting can often turn into a 45 minute meeting when one of your employees brings something new to your attention.

    • Bruce

      07-21-2015

      @Thomas If a 15 minute meeting turns into 45 minutes, you’re doing it wrong. Read up on lean practices. Topics that are off agenda should be tabled for offline discussion or another meeting.

    • Greg

      07-21-2015

      @Bruce It doesn’t sound like a very lean practice to let meetings multiply. If all of the stakeholders are already prepared and present to discuss a new issue then it can be quicker to just get it done than to schedule another session at a later time.

  2. Christopher

    04-20-2015 Reply

    Disorganization and poor preparation can be handled by preparing a proper meeting agenda and following it. The most productive meetings I have had were 5-10 minutes in length, a daily huddle. Each person said what they were working on for that day that had to be accomplished, what issues they were having, and what they needed help on. Quick, easy, and to the point.

    • Chris Too

      04-21-2015

      The huddle is nice but that information is often just that – informative. That can be done via email or SharePoint. Meetings should be for idea gathering, breaking bad news, or coming to a decision on something. But not too many things.

    • Anna

      04-29-2015

      e-mail or sharepoint require just as much time (5-10) minutes, and ultimately salary as the daily huddle…and i’d imagine be less effective, as more people would be inclined to ignore.

    • Colin Christopher

      07-21-2015

      I am in full agreement with Christopher. Short daily meetings focusing on proper execution of the tasks on hand. Ten minutes of face time will save me from a day filled with nagging back and forth email exchanges.

    • Bernard

      10-16-2015

      @Greg, well in fact I agree with Bruce. And I would reply that if stakeholders are available right away, this often indicates poor time management.

  3. Johnny N

    04-20-2015 Reply

    I work as a project management support specialist. Fancy title for someone who takes all the freaking meeting minutes. I didn’t read anywhere where it says $338 is the average cost of a meeting which is how long? 30 minutes?
    Also, I have weekly meetings that can go well over 2 hours. Most go over 90 minutes. There are publications whose data demonstrates that after 90 minutes, productivity declines rapidly. I can tell you that probably over 50% of my meeting attendees don’t participate and decisions are rarely made. However, it is good to openly discuss issues, brainstorm and create homework items (recorded minutes) to be done in the future. My job is then to make sure people actually do their homework.

    • Leroy Jenkins

      04-21-2015

      Pre-meeting meeting baby, YEA!

    • Adib Choudhury

      06-19-2015

      Hey Johnny, the $338 figure is the average cost of a meeting in general. The average length we found was just over 1.5 hours. Hope that clears things up!

  4. Anabelle

    04-20-2015 Reply

    I am an art teacher. I find that way too much of my time is spent in staff meetings and most of the information is redundant. There is always an agenda but no quality to the information or discussion, so I find it really draining. I get the most real work done (outside of instruction) when I close my door and pretend I’m not there . That at least gets rid of so much non-essential distractions.

  5. Omar

    04-20-2015 Reply

    I work for a construction firm and work with a lot of people that are not tech savvy. A lot of the meetings we have can be done via internet or intranet collaboration system like Sharepoint. Our guys are busy with their projects and a great deal of their time can be spent meeting at the office rather than tending to more important matters on the field with their projects. Some hold meetings without the understanding and value of time. Not everyone has times for meetings. What is more damaging is when nothing productive comes out of the meetings, especially when people have put aside their priorities to attend them.

  6. IT guy

    04-21-2015 Reply

    In the IT world, I find that a lot of the managers that don’t keep up with technology create their value by having meetings with other managers that don’t keep up with technology. It creates a lot of overpaid managers and takes resources away from the people that are actually doing the work. These manager rarely leave their companies because they have no marketable skills. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time to discuss requirements, but that should always be done with the people that are writing the code. The code would get written with or without this group of people talking about it. Often the coders don’t even know the meetings are taking place. Meanwhile, the talkers are getting pay increases and awards.

    • Graphics Guy

      04-21-2015

      OMFG, IT Guy… You get it.

    • J

      04-23-2015

      A lot of developers don’t know how to gather requirements correctly though. Many don’t even have the people skills to talk to the business correctly. That’s why you have the managers, who used to be developers, doing it.

    • Jeff Davidson

      06-16-2016

      Nail on the head.

  7. Greg Ames

    04-22-2015 Reply

    Great stuff. I hope this reaches far and wide. Some thoughts:
    1) staff meetings tend to be regular/routine in rhythm. As a result they rarely align with the flow of real work processes (decision points, problem solving, etc). The consequence: staff meetings aren’t very useful because it’s off cadence with natural / optimal flow of work, and/or, they create and redundant parallel stream of effort). Staff meetings also tend to be extremely imperfect as a way to gather the right people together to work on specific matters. Add these tendencies: leaders get lazy about preparation and desired outcomes. Staff meetings are an enormous waste of effort if the job of these meetings isn’t FIRST defined with action words (intent): “problem solving”, “decision making”, “alignment to”. (Note: “Updating” is a waste of time imitating as an action.)

    • Systems Architect

      07-23-2015

      The problem with managers who are talkers is that they don’t know that their coders are “free-balling” when they develop applications. The issue I find the least often discussed in IT meetings is application portability from the developer’s environment which has been hacked together over the course of the dev lifecycle to the production environment. The problem I often see with developers is exactly what IT GUY stated “The code would get written with or without this group of people talking about it”. Coders will write any code regardless of its value as long as it gets written; they feel that they have accomplished something.

  8. Greg Ames

    04-22-2015 Reply

    2) the “real time” for meetings should also include effort/time required for preparation and post processing. If we are having relevant and effective meetings, the actual total time for a meeting could be 2-3x actual gathering time (e.g., a 1h meeting should actually require a total effort footprint of 2-3h for good preparation and post processing). Tools that help with meeting prologue and epilogue could be very useful.

  9. Greg Ames

    04-22-2015 Reply

    3). Great insight about Parkinson’s law. Many meetings are also scheduled for longer than they need to (which enables chronically sloppy preparation). Even more, it’s probably more true that meetings tend to expand to 125-130% of allotted time. Would be cool to see the data on how many meetings really run on time, and +/- how much. Great opportunity for tools and behavior change (skills).

  10. Whisper

    07-08-2015 Reply

    I really liked your article. Really Cool.

  11. Eddy Obaker

    07-08-2015 Reply

    Really informative article post.Really thank you! Cool.

  12. Willis

    07-21-2015 Reply

    This is one awesome post. Really looking forward to reading more. Really Great.

  13. Andreas

    07-21-2015 Reply

    Great post. It’s surprisingly difficult to find good researched data on meetings. We are using anonymous data to try to improve meeting efficiency in the planning stage which could significantly reduce the cost of meetings. Hope to follow up with you soon and letting you know if we’re successful and can move the needle!

  14. Glenn

    07-21-2015 Reply

    I work in a laboratory at a 24 hour facility. Our meetings are about 10 minutes, in most cases, where the manager shares her concerns with us. It’s usually pretty productive.

  15. Old Engineer

    07-21-2015 Reply

    Current firm, a smaller manufacturer has zero formal meeting. When I have a question for the boss, we discuss the matter briefly. No conversations lasts more than minutes. And these discussions are infrequent. With the one time BFH, meetings were an hour long and content free. The staff was treated like grade school children, which was appropriate if only because the boss could only dream of understand the firm’s technology and the basics of marketing.

  16. Sam

    07-22-2015 Reply

    Retail banking meetings are the worst. Check the YouTube videos for any major bank (Chase/BofA/Wells) Morning Huddle (they are made by actual/former banking employees) and the morning huddles are all the same – and all a waste of time. The videos are what everyone attending the meeting is really thinking. Basically it boils down to each employee repeating whatever buzzword/phrase for whatever promotion is going on that quarter. Sales goals are repeated – ad nauseum – for each role in the bank.

    At the end of the day, many banks have a debrief call where a manager from every branch in the district joins a conference call, just to repeat the numbers that they had to input into SharePoint prior to the call starting. It all turns into a repeat of what was said at the morning huddles – “I’m going to do X tomorrow, sell X of this, we’ll refer X clients to our Financial Advisor” – it’s all telling them what they want to hear

  17. Adam M

    07-22-2015 Reply

    This is a very interesting article. Thank you Daniel for a well developed thought provoker. Keep up the good work.

  18. Daniel Simon

    07-22-2015 Reply

    This data is extremely useful from an intercultural perspective as well. It would be interesting to have this data from business communities based internationally. Great stuff.

  19. Robert Haisfield

    07-22-2015 Reply

    What we’ve started to do at my organization to encourage effectiveness is shorten all half hour meetings to 23 minutes and all hour meetings to 47 minute, as well as ban device usage except when necessary for demonstration. It’s made us a lot more focused!

  20. Daryl

    07-27-2015 Reply

    Thanks for the sensible critique. I think I learned more clearly from this post. I am very glad to see such great information being shared freely out there.

  21. NZ business architect

    08-06-2015 Reply

    Good article, I think meetings and the way they are addressed is an inherent part of organisational culture and unless it is targeted for improvement at that level, sustainable change and improvement will probably not occur. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this 🙂

  22. Hassan Fenelon

    12-08-2015 Reply

    We’re a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with valuable info to work on. You’ve done a formidable job and our entire community will be thankful to you.

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