Meeting Plage: Destruction of working time through meetings

Meeting Plage: Destruction of working time through meetings

Complaining about meetings is as much a part of everyday work as whining about bosses. But inefficient meetings are not only a waste of time, but also harmful for companies, scientists say. […]

Managers and employees spend an increasing part of their working time in meetings – with potentially harmful consequences for companies and motivation of the workforce. Scientists and management consultants assume that the corona pandemic has promoted the long-term trend of a steadily growing number of meetings in many companies. The damage caused by inefficient meetings can therefore go far beyond the mere waste of time.

“The frequency of meetings has steadily increased in recent years, also as a result of the increasing organizational complexity,” says Nale Lehmann-Willenbrock, Professor of work and organizational psychology at the University of Hamburg.

There is no question that meetings are necessary and useful: “For example, they are always needed when problems have to be solved together, processes have to be coordinated or adapted anew, or when it is necessary to react to crises,” says the scientist. “Of course, the latter also applies to the corona pandemic.“ Due to the increased work in the home office, the number of shorter meetings and one-to-one meetings in particular has increased – due to the lack of other interaction options.

“There are a few trends that have led to meetings becoming inefficient during the corona crisis,” says Philipp Kolo, a human resources expert at the management consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). “Connecting more people in a meeting is very easy in a video conference. This has advantages, but it also requires a much higher stringency in meeting management.“ Frequent complaints: too many participants, superfluous speeches, lack of structure.

“There are executives who spend 80 to 90 percent of their working time in meetings,” says Kolo. “This is not efficient, because they are supposed to work on the content and need time for their teams.“

A more or less open secret in many companies is also that internal company politics, power and competence wrangling play at least as big a role as the actual topic of the meetings.

“A manager does not have to drag the entire staff of employees into a meeting, because either the manager can make a decision himself, or transfer the decision to an employee,” says Kolo. “This is also a security issue in many companies. The more participants a meeting has, the more responsibilities are distributed.“

Calculating the exact follow-up costs is naturally difficult. But the fact that inefficient meetings are expensive is undisputed: “Estimates of wasted costs due to ineffective meetings vary somewhat in the literature, but are a recognized and far-reaching problem in research,” says Professor Lehmann-Willenbrock.

It is by no means just simple employees who find meetings a torment, but also their bosses. in 2017, the three US scientists Leslie Perlow, Constance Hadley and Eunice Eun published their essay “Stop the Meeting Madness” in the journal “Harvard Business Review”: 65 percent of the 182 senior managers surveyed complained that meetings stopped them from working.

“The lack of return on investment at meetings particularly affects managers, as they spend a lot of working time in different meetings and at the same time generate higher personnel costs,” says Professor Lehmann-Willenbrock. „
However, “dirty” meetings are also harmful to the psychological well-being and commitment of individual employees, as we were able to show in our research.“

BCG personnel expert Kolo says: “It is important to structure the meeting, reduce the number of participants, and limit the time. And: That it is very clear what each participant can and should contribute.“ At the end of the meeting, the to-dos should be set, including responsibilities and schedule.

The consultant refers to the large US tech companies, known in the corporate world for their tight specifications. An example is the usual “Two Pizza Teams” on Amazon. A working group and its meetings should not have more members than are fed up with two pizzas. “Experience has shown that for more than ten people, the planning process loses effectiveness, quality and productivity,” says a spokeswoman for Amazon Germany.

An Amazon meeting usually takes between 45 and 60 minutes, the time should be kept exactly. The first step is the joint reading of a previously prepared maximum six-page document so that everyone is on the same page.

The good news for desperate boardrooms: Sometimes even very simple steps are enough to combat the proliferation of meetings in middle management and staff: “Some companies clear the chairs out of their meeting rooms and put standing tables in them,” says BCG consultant Kolo. “Then there are no more meetings where people sit, drink coffee and eat cookies.“

*René Schmöl, born in 1982, wrote one of his first articles at the age of 16 for the daily newspaper Freies Wort. It was an interview with Hape Kerkeling. This success motivated him to continue. After seven years in local journalism and an apprenticeship as a publishing clerk, a traineeship at the Handelsblatt publishing group followed. René Schmöl has been working for IDG in various positions since 2007. Currently working as the head of the online service for the portal cio.de .

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