Why Long Meetings are Inefficient

Posted July 27, 2012 by Marcy Farrey in On the Ladder

On Friday afternoon, the last thing we want to do is sit in a long meeting — or even think about a long meeting.  Can’t this agenda wait until Monday?

Regardless of what day or time it is, long meetings are hard for everyone to get through, and even though businesses continue to insist on having them, they are one of the worst ways to actually get things done.  Forbes Contributor David DiSalvo outlines the 10 Reasons Why Your Brain Hates Long Business Meetings — and proves that those of us who hate long meetings aren’t just lazy or unmotivated.  The packed agenda turns our brains off right from the start:

Conventional agendas usually look like someone is trying to cram as many topics as possible in a one or two day period, because that’s exactly what someone is trying to do. This approach hamstrings productivity from the get-go, because everyone looking at the agenda realizes it contains far too much for a group to reasonably accomplish in the given timeframe, and that inspires people to focus on how much time they’ll have to endure before making it to the next break. Not a great way to kick off a meeting.”

Another issue with this packed agenda, as DiSalvo point out, is that everyone realizes that most of the topics discussed won’t actually get done.  If you spend five minutes of a four-hour meeting reviewing one idea, how can it materialize?  Chances are it will need more devoted discussion and a larger brainstorming session, which points to DiSalvo’s fourth point: “Perceived dedication to efficiency neuters a team’s productivity.”  The focus is always on packing a lot into the meeting to be as efficient as possible, but the more you pack in, the less efficient the team will be:

When brains come together, they can accomplish great things — but trying to silo a group’s efforts into agenda chunks isn’t the best way to realize that greatness.  People need time to coalesce around an idea, work it like clay, test different ways to animate it. Does that sound like a typical business meeting to you?”

Going through several items in one meeting doesn’t mean we’ve accomplished a lot, and unfortunately it can appear that way.  Managers and employees have to remember that the point of a meeting is to share and develop ideas, not to check bullet points off of a list.

While most of us who aren’t managers cannot do much to change a process that was in place well before us, we can take note of what obviously doesn’t work.  When you have the chance to be a manager, change up the pace.  If you’re already a manager and wondering why your meetings seem to go nowhere, think about DiSalvo’s ten points, and think of how you might be able improve your meeting process.  Having a motivated staff is far more important than checking items off of a list and calling them done — it will be much more rewarding for the items to actually be completed, even if it does take several short meetings.

Read DiSalvo’s ten reasons here.

About the Author

Marcy Farrey

Marcy Farrey is a videographer, writer, and editor. In her previous life, she worked as a broadcast news reporter and producer in Lincoln, Nebraska and as a writer and producer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University. Learn more about Marcy on her website www.marcyfarrey.com.

One Comment


    At my previous employer, we had “stand-up meetings.” Which I thought sounded great — quickly communicating ideas to a group of busy people who are standing instead of sitting. And with all of the talk about how sitting decreases people’s life spans, standing up for a few minutes is much better for your health than sitting.

    And then it turned out that stand-up meetings were held in conference rooms. Where everyone sat down at the conference table. And there were Powerpoint presentations at these meetings. **Smacking self on forehead.** I don’t work there anymore.

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