How Much Time Does Your Organization Waste in Meetings?

Posted by Kristin Arnold on September 5, 2012

Team Memory

I was talking with an executive the other day about his company meetings in an effort to get him to quantify the cost of having poor meetings.  He can easily quantify the cost of operational inefficiencies such as scrap and rework, but meeting productivity? “Surely,” he said, “that’s just the cost of doing business.”

Really?  Meetings are supposed to be inefficient?  How did we get so complacent?   You don’t need to tolerate a high degree of meeting inefficiency just as you would not tolerate any product defects.

In an effort to quantify the time wasted in his meetings, I drew upon the work  of Gerald P. Kaufhold, Senior Partner, TeamsWork Enterprises, and asked the executive to estimate as accurately as possible the time spent (wasted) in a typical week of meetings in his organization. (Note, if you want to do this within your company, be clear about what “level of the organization” you are talking about – the entire organization, your business unit, your division, or your department.  It works equally as well – just be clear about what you are estimating.)

Initially, he balked at even trying to estimate the amount of time (in minutes), but I cajoled him into giving a SWAG (a silly, wild-arsed guess!) to each of these statements:

  1. Time wasted because meetings do not begin on time.
  2. Time wasted because information has to be repeated for those who arrive late.
  3. Time wasted because some people arrive with their own agenda
  4. Time wasted because people with key information do not arrive or cancel at the last moment.
  5. Time wasted because the discussions are dominated by one or a few individuals.
  6. Time wasted because ideas are repeated.
  7. Time wasted because the purpose of the meeting is not clear to all the participants.
  8. Time wasted because the  focus is lost in talking about topics not on the agenda.
  9. Time wasted because intolerance of the opinion of others cause conflicts that disrupt the meeting.
  10. Time wasted because one individual stalls the group’s progess until he is heard and/or he gets what he wants.
  11. Time wasted because the meeting does not end on time.
  12. Any other time wasters? (Needless to say, he was so deflated at this point, we didn’t spend alot of time here!)

I then asked, “So what’s the biggest culprit?”  Again, hedging his bets, he didn’t want to focus on just one.  “Okay, you can identify two…or maybe even three.  But no more!  These are the areas you might want to focus your attention for improvement.”

Ahhh….but here’s where it gets even more interesting:

  1. Add up the total time wasted each week (in minutes).
  2. Multiply the total time wasted each week by the number of participants.  
  3. This number gives you the average time wasted by the organization each week in minutes.
  4. Multiply the average time wasted each week by the organization by 52 (there are 52 weeks in a year).
  5. This number gives you the  Average time wasted annually in minutes.
  6. Divide the average time wasted annually by 60 in order to convert minutes to hours
  7. This number gives you the average time wasted annually in hours.
  8. Multiply the average time wasted annually in hours by the average hourly salary of the participants.
  9. This final number gives you the average annual cost to the organization. 
What’s your number?  Shocking, isn’t it?  Your meetings don’t have to be such a waste of time.  Make an investment in your team’s work to learn how to make your meetings productive.



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