Company meetings: A waste of time and money | Sunday Observer

Company meetings: A waste of time and money

16 January, 2022

Over Rs. 2.3 billion is lost every year in Sri Lanka’s private sector due to unproductive meetings. This is a conservative estimate* - my guess is that the correct figure is probably ten times this number.

Take for example what happened at a top apparel manufacturer in Sri Lanka. Every Saturday, 30 of their top people, including senior merchandisers, had a meeting that lasted most of the day.

There was no agenda, no plan, no preparation – just loose talk throughout the day. Nothing got done. It was a NATO: No Action Talking Only.

Then, a new recruit joined the meeting. He was appalled at the meeting. He presented a plan to his CEO to cut down the meeting to 2 hours. Since the meeting had gotten so short, the group shifted the meeting to Friday afternoons. Finally, things got done – and the 30 managers got Saturdays off.

If this happened only in one company, I would not waste your time talking about it. The truth is that this happens in many local companies – and across the world.

CEOs call for weekly meetings that drag on for hours, wasting their people’s time and demoralising them – not to mention burning up shareholder wealth in the process.

Hotels have morning meetings daily where Heads of Department are kept for long hours needlessly. The Executive Chef does not need to know the security arrangements for a top VIP who is visiting the hotel that day – unless the VIP is visiting the hotel kitchen.

During annual planning meetings at multi-business-unit companies, unit leaders are kept for endless hours outside the meeting room. Some of these meetings do not even happen on the scheduled day.

The list goes on.

Fortunately, corporate life does not have to be this way. There are ways to run meetings that do not lose money for your company, demoralise and alienate your employees, erode your goodwill and the respect of your people, and increase negative feelings and disengagement among rank and file.

So, how can you run productive meetings?

Here are a few suggestions for you. Obviously, they are not exhaustive.

First, call a meeting only if you cannot do what you want through a casual hallway chat, phone call, email, or text.

Second, make an agenda and stick to it.

It is ideal if you can set the outcomes of the meeting before the meeting: what are the outcomes you would like to see coming from the meeting? “You should never go to a meeting without a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve” - Steve Jobs.

Third, invite only the relevant decision makers or those affected by your decision. Leave the rest out. Fourth, start and stop the meeting on time.

As soon as you realise that the meeting is likely to go over time, you need to get the consent of the participants for a later finish time. Alternatively, you can adjourn and reconvene the meeting at a future date and time that is convenient for all.

Fifth, “meetings must be as short as possible.” This is the answer I gave a company director who asked me the ideal length of a meeting. You should especially be mindful of daily, weekly, or monthly meetings. These meetings are likely to be number one time wasters.

Sixth, get rid of distractions.

Mobile phones must be put on silent mode. Urgent voice calls must be taken outside the meeting room. This applies to the Chairperson as well. Once a junior executive asked me how to handle a colleague who takes calls during meetings. I gave him the aforementioned advice, and the executive blurted out, “But, he’s our Chairman!”

One more thing. Ideally, food and beverages must be served either before or after the meeting – not during the meeting.

Refreshments served before the meeting (fellowship time), is a great way to build camaraderie, team spirit, and positive feelings that will spill over to make your meeting successful.

Seventh, appoint someone, before the meeting, to takedown minutes. Only decisions must be recorded. The minutes must be circulated within 24 hours of the meeting – because in private companies, meeting minutes are an “action plan”, reminding the attendees to action and deliver on what they undertook or were assigned. Minutes are not the Hansard.

Eighth, all presentations must be given time limits – and the time limits must be strictly enforced. Be especially careful of PowerPoint presentations – because “people who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint” (Steve Jobs).

If you follow the aforementioned suggestions, you can save you and your employees’ time and company money, enhance your reputation and goodwill, and achieve outstanding results through inspired people.

I wish you fruitful meetings.

*  This is a conservative estimate for a year based on 5 million private sector employees (LBO, 2018), working 2,340 hours per year (, earning an average monthly salary of Rs. 89,800 (, and spending one hour per month at unproductive meetings.

This figure does not take into account opportunity cost: the productive work that employees could have done if they were not attending useless meetings. This figure also does not take into account hours that are lost in waiting for meetings to start.

The writer is a CEO coach and specialist in CEO Communication.