Features | From Pivot Magazine

How to conduct the perfect meeting

For starters, it should be a lot shorter than you’re thinking

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Illustration of woman pointing at pie chart.The average meeting in the U.S. and the U.K. is an hour long, but experts suggest limiting them to 15 minutes (Illustration by Leeandra Ciianci)

It’s an open secret that employees dread most meetings. They can drag on, take time away from actual work and muddle things more than they clarify. 

To figure out why, the scheduling platform Doodle looked at 19 million meetings and interviewed more than 6,500 professionals earlier this year. It found that pointless meetings cost companies US$541 billion in 2019, and the average professional spent two hours in unnecessary meetings every week. In fact, more than a third of those professionals considered unnecessary meetings to be the biggest cost to their organization. It’s no wonder, since the study also estimated 24 billion hours will be lost to them next year.

So what’s the solution? First of all, meetings should be a lot shorter. Doodle found that the average meeting in the U.S. and the U.K. is an hour long, but experts suggest limiting them to 15 minutes. Former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer pushes this ethos even further—she’s known to cap her meetings at 10 minutes. 

Meetings might also have too many participants. As their number increases, quality of conversation erodes, with individuals either jostling to have their voices heard or remaining silent. That’s why Robert Sutton, a Stanford University professor of organizational behaviour, determined the optimal number for a productive meeting is between five and eight.

Even in this increasingly digital age, the vast majority of Doodle’s respondents also reported preferring face-to-face meetings, ideally in the morning. And researchers at Washington University discovered that stand-up meetings led to greater collaboration than seated ones. 

Since it’s not as comfortable as sitting down, standing pushes people to speak more efficiently. The reality is meetings will always be an essential part of the workday. Instead of treating them as a necessary evil, companies should view them as an opportunity to improve productivity.