meetings are awful — why do we have so many of them?

Chances are high that you’ll be spending a lot of time sitting in meetings at work this week — and you’re probably not happy about it. Is there any other single work activity people are so universally united in loathing?

The animus makes sense: Poorly run meetings are far more common than the elusive productive meeting, and meetings frequently last too long, veer off track, and feel like enormous wastes of time. It’s maddening to be stuck in a meeting where nothing is getting accomplished while actual work with deadlines waits for you back at your desk.

At Slate today, I wrote about the terrible scourge of awful meetings and what companies could do about it. You can read it here.

{ 149 comments… read them below }

  1. KHB*

    I was just reading the article on Slate and feeling really grateful for how my employer gets this. My department has 2-3 meetings a month, all of them for necessary and well-defined purposes, and I don’t hate any of them. Even the awful waste-of-time all-staff meetings, where the CEO talks at us about nothing, are at most 60-90 minutes every couple of months.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      You are very lucky. I hate most of the meetings I’m involved in because even if there’s an agenda, people end up bickering over stupid stuff that really doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. For example, we’re redoing our proposal templates and they spent 20 minutes on an hour call last week arguing over a header. One person kept complaining about the graphic element in the header that she doesn’t like (meanwhile, she has zero design background nor is she a content manager, so her opinion should be moot), and I kept thinking, “Seriously?! This is what we’re arguing over? No evaluator in the history of ever has said, ‘You know, I was going to award our contract to this company, but their header image is ugly, so I’m gonna go with the other guy.’”

      My company’s problem is they won’t just let the people whose job it is to do things just do them – everything has to be decided by committee. It’s ridiculous and ineffective because you’ll rarely have everyone agree on the same thing, so that’s why our meetings take forever and just lead to more meetings! Ugh.

      1. Coder von Frankenstein*

        “My company’s problem is they won’t just let the people whose job it is to do things just do them – everything has to be decided by committee.”

        UGH, yes. My team fortunately does not generally work like this – people just do their damn jobs, and are trusted to do them right, and if we have a meeting there’s generally a reason for it – but I’m on a project that involves collaborating with a couple other teams, and every. damn. thing. gets discussed to death.

        I think my anti-favorite is probably the estimation meetings, where everyone is supposed to estimate how long each task will take. A lot of the tasks are things I have no idea how to do or how hard they are. Maybe three other people in the room have any idea how to do *my* tasks or how hard they are. Basically, the few people who understand a given task put up their numbers, and the rest of us quickly imitate them.

    2. LadyL*

      I mean, I always feel I work best collaboratively and I prefer face-to-face interaction to email, so I actually like meetings. Well, I should say, I like small meetings where you can actually discuss things and bounce ideas around. I get why people hate things like all staff meetings where you just sit there and have different agenda items read to you (although sometimes it is the best way to get new info), but I’ve never understood why meetings are so universally hated. I suspect that the issue isn’t meetings themselves, but rather how businesses use them.

    3. Anonomoose*

      I too don’t mind our meetings, but I recently made a revolutionary change..for meetings I’m only loosely involved in, each time they happen, I say “sure, but I can only stay for ten minutes”

      They’ve gone from bickering to “anonomoose, this is what we need from you”. And they assume I’m insanely busy, as I can’t stay more than 10 mins

  2. Mike C.*

    Edward Tufte suggested handing everyone a sheet of paper and 10-15 minutes to go through all the slides/material of a meeting, then taking questions as needed. I’ve never tried it myself but I’d love to and something needs to change about people standing up in front of a room, reading slides out loud and demanding that everyone look at them with rapt attention for hours at a time.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Meeting slides should have high level points with the speaker providing details. But yes, sitting in a meeting with one or more people droning on about stuff is tiring and boring. We just had a 2 day kick-off meeting for a new project, and it was a combo of presentation and interaction. I think the key is keeping people engaged and interested. If you’re simply going to hand people a document and ask for questions, then you don’t need a meeting, and chances are most people are going to forget to look at it at all and give the impression that there are no questions and everything is all good.

    2. diner lobster*

      His idea might’ve worked OK in the pre-smartphone days, or in offices where people will comply with a “no phones at this meeting” requirement….but in 2019? I don’t think so.

      1. Lora*

        It works when every single slide has data on it, which is also what he advocates. No data, no slide.

        I like this method for trimming down meeting nonsense myself. If you have data, let’s look at the data. If you have a Wall O Text opinion to read at me, quit wasting everyone’s time and send an email. In a big international company a great many people will not share a first language anyway, so text of any kind doesn’t make much sense.

        Had a PhD committee and later a Scientific Advisory Board Member (George Church) who all demanded chalk talks only. THAT was fun, and I am a big fan of using it as a method for keeping meetings short and focused.

        1. Amber T*

          “No data, no slide.”

          Oh man, we hire an outside agency to help with a specific area of yearly training, and every year they come back with an 80+ slide ppt where 40 of it has actual useful information. Title pages I could deal with to show a clear break between parts of the presentation. But then there are lengthy quotes that “show the importance” of what we’re discussing (no one actually listens to these), pages with an absurd amount of data (“here’s this graph that shows a 10 year history regarding these 20 different factors, and this information is fully relevant to maybe three of you). And clip art. So. Much. Clip art. So reminiscent of junior high when ppt was becoming a thing we should learn, so why not make a paperclip twirl across the page??

    3. LQ*

      The thing I like about this is that it acknowledges that 90% of people aren’t going to read ahead of time and accounts for it. Rather than going, well if I just TELL people they should read it all before hand that then they WILL read it all before hand. No…no they won’t. Just accept that.

      I’ve started doing a chunked variant of this. Not read the whole thing, but read this chunk then lets talk about it, then the next chunk. Otherwise I’ve found the questions aren’t good enough and the folks who want to jump to questions start asking before people get through the whole document. So read this bit is easier to manage.

      1. Mike C.*

        I could see that working well.

        You make a great point about preparation – you can’t leave it up to the individual because you’re always going to have someone who forgets, doesn’t care, is brought in late, was out or had more pressing work to do. Rather than just blaming the individual (which doesn’t change anything), you change the process so that it doesn’t matter.

        1. Mr. Shark*

          Powerpoint should just be an outline of the major points. All the details should be in spoken form.

          Data should just be relevant and in smaller chunks, so that it’s easy to figure it out when looking at the slide.

          1. The New Wanderer*

            As someone who often has to look at PPTs from a decade ago, please for my sake include notes! It’s all well and good to have a slide deck with a few bullet points or a graph but if there’s no accompanying text or notes, it is nearly useless after the fact. Way more people at my company use PPTs to convey and save information than white papers or other documentation, so if you want that information preserved, make sure it’s complete.

          2. LQ*

            Tufte was specifically speaking about stronger documentation than just powerpoints. The data should be documented somewhere that isn’t just the words you say to me and it is that thing that should be read at the start of the meeting. Or that chunk. We use process documents, run books, plans, use cases, etc whatever is relevant to that project/thing. Read the first section. Now let’s talk about questions.

    4. Keyboard Cowboy*

      Amazon does this, although they claim Jeff Bezos invented it, so I’m gleeful to hear you cite someone else. There’s some apocryphal story about Bezos asking a speaker a question and watching the speaker consult their speaker notes for the answer, and then asking for the speaker notes so he could just read them directly and get all the info.

      Whether he invented it or plagiarized it (still LOLing), I think fondly back to meetings when I worked there. I went 18 months and saw probably only three slideshows during that time. Wish I could run my meetings at newjob Tech Giant that way.

  3. Jedi Squirrel*

    A lot of this boils down to purpose, planning, and execution. Purpose means that you actually have a good reason for the meeting. A good agenda means that all the stakeholder’s needs/interests are addressed (so get input on this first). Good execution means that everyone has that agenda in front of them (on paper or on a screen) and that the person in charge sticks to that agenda and doesn’t let anyone derail it (and I have language for that). If I can’t manage all three pieces, I don’t bother with the meeting.

    And yes, sometimes fruitful non-agenda topics do develop, but it’s always best to table those until the next meeting or to have a separate meeting about those.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      We have a monthly staff meeting. It’s frustrating in two ways.

      1. Sometimes I’ll ask my boss a question and she’ll say “That’s a good question. We’ll cover that in our next staff meeting.” Which means I now have to wait three weeks to get my question answered and I have no idea if a situation will arise in the next three weeks when this is a thing I’ll need to know.

      2. Other times, one of the agenda items at the meeting will be a thing that one of the higher ups emailed to all staff prior to the meeting. So we’ve already known this thing for two weeks, and now we all have to be told all about it and how it will work, even though we already knew.

      I really prefer a supervisor who tells their staff things as they come up, rather than saving up for a meeting.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        That is frustrating.

        I’d push back on #1 with “Could you put the answer/solution/procedure for that in an email instead, because I am working on it now. We can talk about how it worked out in next month’s meeting.”

        I have no idea how to push back on #2, because that is an example “I survived a meeting which should have been an email” and actually was an email.

        1. PotatoEngineer*

          I bet management thinks that not enough people are reading and remembering the email, which is why they repeat it in the meeting. Something something “multiple learning modes” something repeat after me. It’s good in theory, but whether it’s good in practice depends on the people involved – both on the speaking and listening sides. You might just have to put up with the repetition because this is Important Information (or, at least, they think so), and thus bears repeating.

    1. Wintermute*

      I call it a “speak to be seen” culture, where people feel that unless they give (usually useless) input then they’re not validating their existence.

      Sadly some bosses play into this by lax metric and accomplishment tracking so performance-based evaluations and especially promotions rely on the boss remembering who you are, which means you feel the need to get your face and name out there in front of him.

      1. 1234*

        THIS. At OldJob, I was told in my performance reviews that I didn’t speak up in meetings enough. I responded saying that “So and so had said what I wanted to say.” Her response was like “You still need to speak up or expand on that idea.”

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Our VP of HR once commented that no one was really participating in our weekly meetings. By the time we had the meeting, we were talking about old news. So of course, after the complaint people were speaking up: ‘If I heard you correctly, John, you’re saying water is wet but there’s no need to test it again…’ and ‘If I can piggyback on that, water is wet when it falls out of the sky, and also when we turn on the faucets. Or I misunderstand?’

          The VP was happy with all the ‘participation’ but the rest of us mentally slapped her silly.

    2. Pamplemeow*

      This is my boss 100%. I think he sometimes forgets other people have stuff to do besides sit in meetings.

    3. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      Yes! At OldJob, we spent most of the day in back-to-back conference calls that lasted 2 or more hours each. They were the type of call where we watched one person make and document changes, like In one of the situations mentioned in Alison’s article. Our boss once admitted that she knitted during these calls while she had someone on the team take notes for her. Great for her, but when were the rest of us supposed to get any actual work done?

  4. Michelle*

    I wish this article was a PDF document so I could print it (without all the advertisements). Especially about the part about the people who interject and start rambling.

  5. Jamie*

    I have always advocated smart meeting management start and end on time, stick to agenda, schedule follow ups for hijackings if needed but keep on task.

    Some people think I’m the devil.

    Their meeting styles make my ears bleed.

    1. Door Guy*

      I have 1 meeting a week and it stays pretty close to the outlined agenda for topics. It’s a minor inconvenience but a necessary one as while most of the bullet points on the agenda are the organizer’s b***h list, there are enough that actually require my input that I need to be there.

      Last job had a weekly management meeting with no real agenda that usually just ended up with the General Manager droning on and on and no one else really getting a chance to say much. No slides, no documents, no agenda (that we could see, we called in on a conference line). We also had our weekly tech meetings where we were sent down a powerpoint and we were not allowed to change it.

    2. EH*

      On the rare occasions I have to run a meeting, that’s my method as well. “Y’all take that offline, okay? So about [thing we were discussing]…”

      Mostly people seem to like it, because my meetings almost always run short. It probably also helps that I’ve been in tech companies that don’t have a meeting-heavy culture.

  6. Trout 'Waver*

    My work life has dramatically improved since I adopted a policy of not attending meetings without agendas.

    If you can at all avoid them, meetings without agendas are guaranteed to be poorly run. An agenda gives people a chance to prepare, it sets boundaries for what’s going to be discussed, gives the organizer a very easy tool to rein in off-topic tangents, and lets people opt out if the agenda isn’t relevent to them.

    I’m also a big fan of desired outcome statements.

    1. texan in exile*

      I love agendas. I also start every meeting I organize with the words, “The purpose of this meeting is to X.” And – then we do what we need to do to reach X.

    2. Gus*

      I really like how you structure the meeting like that by communicating the point of the meeting right at the start. I will start doing this.

  7. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I don’t really agree that meetings are universally loathed. I work with several people who really seem to love them — they are usually managers — they get to hear themselves speak, they order snacks like it’s a social party rather than work, and they make a big post-meeting show about how much we got accomplished despite nothing being accomplished. They LOVE meetings, but getting them to answer an email is torture — a yes/no question results in them scheduling another meeting where they say neither “yes” nor “no.”

    1. Jerk Store*

      I had a boss like this. We had a small department in a small-ish company and we had a weekly department meeting because her MBA program led her to believe every department should have a weekly meeting even though all of us did unrelated jobs.

    2. LQ*

      I know a few people like this. They are supervisors who don’t have a lot of meetings. (Compared with a few of us who are in meetings all of the day.) They are the ones suggesting meetings that feel meaningless. Also a few staff who want to be a part of all of the meetings so they feel like they know everything that’s going on. I think that there is sometime weird false transference of this person who is important is in meetings all day every day therefore if I am also in meetings all day every day I am also a person who is important!

      I don’t hate the ones that are needed. Sometimes things need to be a conversation and not a dictated email with do these 7 tasks. If I could just “Do these 7 tasks” then I would, but if I need you to get to a place where you can figure out what the number of tasks between 5 and 30 is that needs to be done and what they are then that’s likely a conversation (aka a meeting) not an email.

      Though we do not get snacks in meetings and I’ve had to start scheduling meetings over my lunch hour which I hate so I really resent snack meetings right now.

  8. Meeting Hater*

    I shared with my manager and team a Harvard Business Review article about how there is actually proof that the more meetings a team has, the less productive it is. Then I politely said that maybe we don’t need multiple hour-long status meetings per week. I was ignored. Sigh.

    1. BadWolf*

      On a previous software project, when things were off the rails, we’d start doing two status meetings a day. It started to feel like my status between the morning and afternoon meetings were, “Well, after this morning’s meeting, I went to the bathroom, refilled my coffee, answered questions generated by this morning’s meeting, answered pre-status call questions and got on this second status call….so nothing related to the problem I’m trying to fix.”

  9. Antilles*

    For me, the biggest thing that’s helped my meetings (both running them as an attendee)? Making them Conference Calls as much as possible.
    See, a huge proportion of the meetings I’ve attended in my career could basically be described as “useful info, intermixed with long stretches of stuff that’s not relevant”. The most common scenario is a team-wide meeting: The first 10 minutes are project-wide updates relevant to everybody…then followed by going around the room and every individual gives an update on their particular discipline/group/task. Which is very useful to the PM (obviously) but usually only minimally relevant (or not at all) for everybody else in the room.
    So instead, it’s a conference call. After the initial burst of discussions, everybody else mutes their phone and does other stuff, half-listening, and just chimes in when it’s their turn to talk or there’s a topic that’s relevant to them.

    1. Door Guy*

      My sister has a gag ribbon that says “I survived another meeting that should have been an email.” Your comment just made me think of it.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      That can pose a problem too though, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. As a PM, I need everyone to listen to the others give updates because if they have issues or blockers, the others on the call may need to answer questions, or ask them to move towards a solution. All of my meetings are conference calls because we’re all in different locations, and there are more times than not when the person running the meeting asks a question and all you get is silence because the person(s) who needs to answer is multi-tasking or day dreaming. This leads to longer meetings and more wasting of everyone’s time.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        Well, this situation is liable to get out of hand if you aren’t guiding the meetings a lot, and you get 2-3h project meetings where hardly nothing is of interest to anyone at all … and the few things that are can get lost in boredom. But you can limit speaking time for each sub-team, with the specific instructions to bring up anything that affects any team interfaces, and then take the other stuff, that YOU but no one else needs to know, offline. And then re-visit team-by-team. Obviously, how to distinguish the two depends on the industry, and it is where a technically literate PM who’s also savvy at constructing a mental model of the project, is irreplaceable.

      2. Zombeyonce*

        Everyone on my team posts the information you’re looking for in a specific Slack channel each day and it’s so much better than this type of meeting. We can read everyone else’s status and blockers and reply in threads. It has the added benefit of being able to go back and read it again later if needed for reference, and works for multi-time zone teams.

    3. theelephantintheroom*

      I have a meeting once a week that goes like this–going around the room and updating everyone on their projects. It’s SO useless, because no one in this meeting is a stakeholder in any of my projects (and I’m not a stakeholder in any of theirs, we just happen to be in the same department). I’ve refused to participate by just saying, “No updates from me, everything’s going smoothly. Thanks!” All of my updates are online where EVERYONE can see them if they really want to know what I’m up to.

    4. Nicki Name*

      I’ve experienced meetings that got much longer that way because it reduced the urgency to end it.

    5. hbc*

      I have meetings that are somewhat similar in that there are a lot of topics that involve, say, three of the eight people there, but it’s always a different three, and you never know when a fourth is going to pop and say, “Wait, that affects my group in a way you couldn’t have anticipated.”

      I compensate by having a detailed agenda ahead of time (so people know when they can tune out) and freely allowing laptops so people can work on other things while half listening.

    6. Pink Glitter*

      We had a Skype meeting last week. It took literally a half an hour for everyone to get on/be able to hear/see.

      To be fair, I was able to still work while I sat there and listened to everyone deal with their tech issues, but I’m not sure that is a great solution.

      1. LQ*

        This has been my big issue with the conference calls. There is a terrible amount of time spent on getting everyone connected. In a few meetings more time with the conference call set up than on the meeting. I was NOT able to do real work while waiting so I tried to do the relationship building thing but it was awful too.

        (The worst was the guy who insisted on joining via conference call from his office 2 door down from the meeting room and made us wait. I finally got up and walked over to him and gave him a tremendous amount of grief for holding up the meeting because he didn’t want to just show up in person. Talk about phoning it in.)

  10. Goldfinch*

    My biggest gripe with meetings is companies claiming to allow flex time, but demanding meeting presence at all hours anyway.

    Our core hours are 9-3, with all departments (except customer service) allowed to set a consistent-yet-flexible workday within that framing. A project manager will set recurring meetings that run from 4:00 to 5:00 PM, twice a week for the next six months. No one says boo about it. Now you’re on four difference projects, and suddenly your workweek is 50 hours minimum. But try to pull back on the mornings–nope, you said you were starting early, you have to stick to it!

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yes, but as a PM, it can be really difficult to schedule a meeting when you’re limited to 6 hours of an 8 hour work day because everyone works flex hours. If they won’t let you come in later because you’re scheduled for a later meeting, that’s an entirely different issue and not the meeting scheduler’s fault.

      1. BRR*

        It can be difficult but those are Goldfinch’s hours. It’s the same as not being able to schedule meetings at 6 am or 7:30 pm.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          So the meeting scheduler should schedule them around one person’s hours? It’s hard enough to schedule them when everyone works the same 8 hours and they live in the same time zone.

      2. Antilles*

        I don’t think that’s a good excuse when the core hours are 6 hours long (9 am to 3 pm). That’s a fairly wide window and plenty of time to arrange things.
        I mean, effectively, having a 6-hour core hours is basically no different than the standard US time zones…and I can’t imagine anybody would argue it’s reasonable to schedule a recurring meeting for 9:00 AM EST when one team member works in California.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          It’s not an excuse, it’s reality. And to answer your question, no I wouldn’t schedule a recurring meeting at 9amEST if one or more essential people were on the west cost. But that proves my point even further. If you’re limiting me to 9am-3pm EST, with west coasters, that makes the window even smaller. Poster’s problem should be with their manager, who won’t allow them to flex their start time when scheduled for late meetings.

          1. Evan Þ.*

            Like Goldfinch, I have flex hours. I’ve joined regular activities which require me to leave work at 4:30 PM every Wednesday, on the strength of those flex hours which let me do that. If my PM scheduled a mandatory meeting till 5 PM Wednesdays, I’d decline the invite with explanation, be very upset if she pushed, and escalate it with management if necessary. And that’s for an activity which I could in theory cancel – some of my teammates need to leave to pick up their kids from school or daycare, or arrive late to drop them off.

            Bottom line: flex hours are very valuable to people.

      3. Jackie*

        Agreed – throw in clients in all different time zones and that six hour window gets cut in half so quickly.

  11. Amber Rose*

    The meetings I run are boring and pointless, and since they’re government mandated all I can do is make them as short as possible.

    My company, on the other hand, doesn’t really stick us in pointless meetings ever, which I appreciate.

  12. Brogrammer*

    The worst meetings I’ve been in have been with clients at their request rather than internal meetings. The kind of meetings where there’s a lot of “Why hasn’t this minor, inconsistent, non-reproducible problem been fixed?” (because we still don’t know what’s causing it), “Why hasn’t this been done yet?” (because we de-prioritized that task in favor of something else you said was more important), and “Why don’t you have XYZ feature?” (because we’ve never had that feature, which you knew about when you signed up for our service). The person running the meeting usually feels like they can’t shut these things down quickly because when they try a redirect, the client goes back to the original thing they were harping on and they feel like they can’t be more forceful with a client.

    1. Evan Þ.*

      What I’d urge about that is, at least, not pulling other people from your company in to listen to the client griping. If your job is to make the client happy, that’s one thing, but if you pulled two developers in to talk with the client about Client Request X, please don’t make them listen to the client harping on Client Request Y. Either don’t pull them into the call and relay what they have to say about X, or else try to redirect the client with something like “let’s talk about X now so that Bob and Jane can get back to work to fix X.”

      My employer’s usually really good about this, and listening to people talk about client calls, I’m very glad.

  13. Manders*

    Something I’ve noticed is that there are way more meetings on my calendar since I started working in an open office with a big group of people, but a lot of those “meetings” are just going into a conference room to have a quick conversation or check-in so we won’t be disruptive to others. When the company was smaller, we’d have those conversations without making them into formal meetings. I actually do like those mini-meetings because sometimes it takes 5 minutes to work something out that would require a lot of back and forth on email or Slack.

    My husband’s a teacher, and he haaaaaaates meetings. His department’s huge and it seems like they schedule multi-hour meetings every week, it sounds horrible.

    1. Tau*

      Yeah, I’m still fond of the semi-spontaneous small team check-in meetings to make sure everyone’s on the same page about shared or potentially shared work. You do however have to leave room for everyone to say “nah, nothing new on my side, can we get back to work now?” and the instant it starts expanding is death.

    2. JJ*

      Long live the Work Party!

      I find it SO productive to sit and work with people on a project (i.e. everyone working on their own at the same table), and when you hit a question/clarification spot, you can just look up and say “hey, what should we do about this?” It’s hashed out in two seconds and the work moves on at a nice clip. Bonus if the boss/stakeholder/manager you’re working with is coworking too so the bigger decisions can be made. Double bonus if you can move the whole operation offsite to a coffee shop.

  14. Asenath*

    I suppose I can’t really say that some areas (or people??) are more prone to excessive meetings than others, but based on my very limited personal experience, I suspect there’s something to it. In an earlier job in one field, they held these incredibly long and unproductive meetings – the staff meetings were especially prone to these failings. In my current job – only tangentially related to the first – at my level, there are very few meetings, maybe quarterly for some things; one-offs for another – and people are generally very busy, so they keep meetings on track and relatively short. It was like a breath of fresh air, the first time I attended a meeting in my then-new job. You need a good agenda and a chair who can cut off ramblings, but it also helps if everyone is so busy at other tasks that they’re highly motivated to finish meetings on time. Their only fault is a tendency to wander in late, but you can’t have perfection I suppose.

  15. Goya de la Mancha*

    My biggest issue is whole office/department meetings. My job is XYZ, please do not involve me in an hour plus meeting that is about ABC. The people who do ABC need to be there, not me. I know you think you’re keeping me informed, but you’re really just wasting my time.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I have always hated company wide or full department meetings. I generally don’t care about 90% of what you’re telling me. If there’s a major change happening that will affect me, I’m all in. But other than that I’m out.

      1. Tau*

        My current place does weekly company-wide meetings and about five minutes in I start wanting to claw at the walls to escape. I do not care I do not care please let me get back to work already! also maybe calculate how much money it is costing you to drag everyone here and consider whether this could not have been put into an e-mail instead??

        1. S-Mart*

          My current job has a weekly standing-only (like 3-4 chairs total in the room) all-hands meeting, that 90% of the time could be an email.

          … which is still better than the *daily* standing-only all-hands meetings we used to have.

          The other meetings we have are reasonably useful/well-run. Thankfully.

          The other problem we have is people not understanding the concept of ‘optional’ when invited or sending invites – which can sometimes lead to rescheduling multiple times to accommodate the schedules of people who don’t actually need to be there.

    2. Dana B.S.*

      I actually appreciate these meetings on occasion. But I would say lower frequency (monthly for department and quarterly for whole company) as well as keeping it brief (30 minutes for department and 45-60 minutes for company) is what is important.

      At ExJob, I had weekly department meetings (even with an agenda) that always got out of hand. Though my theory was that we just spent too much time sitting silently at our desks.

      1. Oilpress*

        I agree about the frequency and enjoying them. My large department gathers once a quarter for two hours, and it’s a key part of how we keep in touch, network, and build some work-friendships. I don’t even care that most of the topics are only tangentially relevant to me.

    3. BRR*

      My last job did this. It was a smaller nonprofit (~75 people) and there would be all staff meetings under the guise of “everything is relevant because this is program related.”

    4. ACDC*

      Yup, my old job was like this. I work in accounting, I really don’t need to hear about the new instagram posts marketing wants to try or the policy to deter lateness operations is going to start.

    5. Aggretsuko*

      Hah, I freaking read and/or knit during those a lot of the time, especially the interstaff ones with other departments. I have a 2-hour one tomorrow.

  16. Justme, The OG*

    I was just talking about this to a co-worker. They’re all in a meeting all day today and tomorrow with an important person to the project. I luckily do not have to go at all.

  17. Fortitude Jones*

    Meetings shouldn’t be used to convey information that can easily be conveyed in a memo or email. They should be reserved for topics that truly require back-and-forth discussion.

    My company has a really bad habit of doing this (having meetings about stuff that could just be an email). I’ve started pushing back on some of these because they truly are a waste of time and there are too many high-level people included in these things that could be spending their time elsewhere doing something productive. I have no idea how I’m perceived by doing this, though, but I do want to champion efficiency in the workplace as much as possible here (especially since we always talk about how our products are supposed to create efficiencies for our users) – maybe they think I’m a slacker or am wholly uninterested in the subject matter. *shrugs* I just need these dumb things to stop, lol.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Your new mantra: $100 per person, per hour. Just keep saying that until you see the penny drop.

      (“Yup, the all-department meeting that lasts an hour costs the company $2800, and that’s before snacks. Why did we cut snacks, again?”)

  18. IAmAPatientGirl*

    I work at a Company with lots of cross-functional projects at any given time, so there do end up being lots of meetings, but I think in general they are pretty efficient and we’ll run. We have two things helping us out:

    1) we don’t have nearly enough conference rooms, so when you get a room and the people in it, you really have to be concise and efficient in order to get your stuff done before the next group kicks you out of the room. (And we do!)

    2) our CEO has famously given us permission to leave meetings that we aren’t getting anything out of, or don’t need to be in, or conflict with higher priority work. On both ends it is pretty empowering- to walk out of a meeting that you aren’t getting anything out of feels like you are taking control of your day. If too many people are walking out of YOUR meeting, it makes you reconsider the importance or agenda of your meeting.

    1. Goose Lavel*

      I stand up and leave if the meeting runs more than 5 minutes long or it’s obvious my input is no longer required.

  19. HS Teacher*

    We have so many teacher meetings that are unproductive because they use the very same methodologies they frown upon to teach us. Almost every time there is a slideshow telling us we shouldn’t use slideshows. Teachers make terrible students, too, so that doesn’t help. It’s not uncommon to see people working on their laptops or using their phones during meetings. Again, it doesn’t surprise me since there is very little effort into making the meeting engaging or even helpful.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I used to teach middle and high school, and I concur. It is one of the things I truly don’t miss about teaching. The irony is that if we ran our classrooms the way administrators run meetings, we’d be canned in no time.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      “Almost every time there is a slideshow telling us we shouldn’t use slideshows.”


  20. SheLooksFamiliar*

    When I was with Huge Global Company, we were going through some major changes – we were splitting into 2 companies, and needed to copy/install systems and structures, and also to build new ones from scratch. My team and I averaged 35 hours a week in meetings: weekly staff meetings, project meetings, vendor meetings, touch base/updates with hiring managers and HR business partners, brainstorming meetings, budget meetings, transition update meetings, regional update meetings…sure, some were ‘optional’ but missing one got negative attention. During the actual transition, it made sense to meet more frequently than ususal, there was a lot of time-sensitive activity to manage.

    However, I think some people felt important being in so many ‘critical’ and ‘high-level’ meetings – or maybe they found out they could avoid new assignments by being unavailable – because several teams kept the trend going long after the split. We still averaged 28-30 hours a week in meetings. And believe me when I say they were not well run nor productive sessions.

  21. Jaybeetee*

    My previous workplace loooooved meetings. We had meetings all the time. I joked that the managers just liked to get away from their desks. Every team member had a weekly 1×1, weekly team meetings, then also regular meetings for larger configurations (section, unit, division, etc), meetings for new policies or training (which seemed to be weirdly frequent)… you get the idea.

    I have since lucked into a workplace where seemingly everyone hates meetings, they are infrequent, detailed agendas are always included. Team meetings are skipped if there’s nothing new to report. The only thorn in my side here is at our quarterly division meetings, there is That One Guy With A Million Questions Who Everyone Wants To Kill. But even then, the director will eventually steer him towards either meeting with her privately or putting it all in an email, rather than holding up everyone else. I’m a much bigger fan of the meeting culture here.

      1. Coder von Frankenstein*

        The worst part about that person is that they make *me* bite my tongue on legit questions, because I can’t stand to drag this torture on any longer.

      2. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        This! Everyone hates That Guy. And he thinks he is making himself look good by asking his million questions.

      3. Decima Dewey*

        I find it amusing when you can feel that the people from the panel discussion, the CEO, basically everyone else in the room wants to wrap it up and go back to their location, lunch, etc. Except That One Guy With A Million Questions Who Everyone Wants to Kill.

  22. COO Admirer*

    About a month ago, we had half the staff in the conference room for a postmortem on a major event we had just concluded. The meeting organizers were calling in (they work remotely).

    Meeting starts. Organizer 1 says, “OK, first I want to talk about next year’s planning.” COO interrupts. “We aren’t doing that. Do you have an agenda for this postmortem meeting to talk about this year’s event?” Organizer 2 jumps in. “We’re waiting on some of the followup surveys we sent out yesterday.” COO says, “Then we aren’t ready to have this meeting. Let me know when all the surveys are complete and we can reschedule if you think it’s necessary.” Organizers 1 and 2 get a bit huffy. COO shuts it down by pointing out that they’ve got over half of the company’s payroll in this meeting and if they don’t know what they want to talk about, they’re wasting everyone’s time and the company’s money. Meeting ends.

    I love her.

  23. Nicki Name*

    Another big thing that helps: enforced time limits on individual items!

    One of my ex-jobs was at a huge company which would have “demo days” with a huge conference call where software teams from offices all over the country would show off what they’d been working on recently. There was a five-minute timer for each demo which would be audible to everyone on the call when it went off. If a team hit the time limit, the presenter would be allowed another sentence or two and then control would be passed to the next team.

    It was the one meeting I went to that everyone liked (well, except maybe presenters who couldn’t manage to stick to the time limit).

  24. Jennifer*

    Thankful to have a boss who hates pointless meetings as much as I do. If there is nothing new to report, we don’t have them. One on one meetings every so often are much more productive because I get to raise the issues I care about instead of listening to someone drone on and on pointlessly.

  25. Feline*

    My current workplace sees meetings as “communication,” so when employees have responded to employee surveys that communication is insufficient, they just scheduled more. Even worse, it’s more of the big time-wasters, town hall meetings, which devour so many more man-hours without sharing the relevant stuff. Trying to get information about our facility’s plans for hurricane Dorian was like pulling teeth, but someone at the main office is filming executives musing about stuff that doesn’t answer simple questions like “where do I work tomorrow?”

    Meetings can, of course, be communication, but they are sometimes just a placebo.

    1. juliebulie*

      Filming executives? OMG, I think we work for the same company. Their philosophy is to never put into writing what you could put into an overproduced video instead.

  26. Madeline Wuntch*

    My old boss used meetings as a stick to beat you with (a la, beatings will continue until morale improves), I.e if he liked you, well, this meeting isn’t really necessary, right? If he didn’t, all staff email, hey guys, just wanted to improve our meetings, 8 carefully worded, tightly wound paragraphs later, via intricate spreadsheet that are particularly burdensome on certain people, no reason at all, obviously this all makes sense for everyone (see tightly wound, carefully worded paragraphs above as evidence). So then we met for an tightly wound, carefully worded half-hour of listing out numbers from our personal spreadsheet. Or he instituted 2x weekly meetings where a certain group had to come watch someone go through a spreadsheet about what they’d done the couple days since last they met. I once had a meeting where he put together an actual, literal powerpoint about how someone (in a similar job that I worked closely with) had really screwed up (in a way that didn’t involve me at all), with screenshots and timelines and, oh boy, that meeting had it all: an Agenda, was exquisitely planned, and executed to exacting specifications. Morale improved when HR tightened the screws enough that he left, and we have a new, great boss who knows how to have a meeting…anyways, still recovering, but meetings aren’t the problem, as always, people are the problem.

  27. dealing with dragons*

    there is a ribbon for sale that says “I survived another meeting that should have been an email”

    I think about buying them for the office

    1. Half-Caf Latte*

      The other side of this is:

      I have had to schedule so many meetings because people won’t read their emails….

      1. juliebulie*

        After the apocalypse, there will be two groups of people: The people who preferred emails, who live on the surface; and the people who preferred meetings, who live underground. Each is unaware of the other’s existence…

      2. LQ*

        I’m so grumpy that I’ve had to start doing this. Scheduling meetings to review documents. I long for the day that we show up and everyone’s read the document and has their few notes and we discuss those and close it up. But after nearly 2 years of trying to get people to read and send in comments or even just read documents I’ve given up and started scheduling meetings to read shit together. And are those same people who refuse to read anything going to complain about the meeting? YUP! But I cannot bring myself to care because I showed up having read them every single time and they never did so this is not them being punished, this is me being punished for good behavior.

        So grumpy about it.

  28. Anonygrouse*

    OldJob had so many meetings and committees that they, naturally, formed a committee on committees and meetings. It met weekly for at least a year. (No discernible impact on meeting load, but you probably figured that.) Luckily CurrentJob is much more sane in that regard.

  29. Holy Carp*

    When I was overseas during the Gulf War, our general had a staff meeting every day in the late afternoon. No one had a seat except him, so all had to stand during the meeting. That, plus the added incentive of holding the meeting right before chow started, kept run times to a minimum. :)

  30. House Tyrell*

    My team has mostly unnecessary standing meetings 4 days of the week. It’s incredibly annoying and a waste of time, especially on the days when I have nothing to contribute because it’s about accounting or another team member, but I’m still expected to be there anyway. The Monday and Friday meetings usually last 10-20 minutes tops but the Tuesday and Thursdays ones last more than an hour. Not the world’s longest meetings, but when I’m trying to schedule actual important meetings with clients and vendors, it’s frustrating to have to stop in for a 10 minute meeting that I will learn nothing from and contribute nothing to.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yes, I hate those. I have a standing 2 hour 8-10 a.m. Monday morning meeting, during which you are not allowed to yawn/be tired, have to be Engaged the entire time even if what we’re talking about has nothing to do with you, have to sit perfectly still, etc. So. Bored. Really, all we need to do is discuss this week’s scheduling, but everything else after that is tedious as hell. Today I had to watch some videos some other org did for an hour. Why?

    2. Coder von Frankenstein*

      Funny thing about stand-up meetings. I have been in a lot of them, and some have been incredibly efficient and useful, and others have been excruciating.

      You know what I just realized? The useful ones included *only* people who were doing actual work on the same project. No managers, project managers, Scrum Masters, assorted stakeholders, or people on other projects who happened to share a box on the org chart.

  31. ragazza*

    Amen. I once had a terrible boss who felt he had to use the entire half hour of our 1:1, so once we got through what we actually needed to talk about–which took about 10 minutes usually–he droned on for the rest of his time about his philosophy, his plans for the department, etc. I could literally have put on a recording of me going, “Uh huh…yep…interesting…”

  32. Banana Bread Breakfast*

    I used to work somewhere that had bi-monthly staff meetings, but not always – the director decided the morning of (sometimes within a half hour) whether or not we would actually meet.

    There was never an agenda set, instead we played round-robin sharing what we thought the director might want to know, or sometimes the director would be in a bad mood and either sit in stony silence not making eye contact while we all tried to figure out what we were there for, or, conversely, decide to drill us about something (or one person specifically while we all sat in uncomfortable silence). Sometimes the director was in a great mood and wouldn’t want to talk about work at all, instead waxing poetic about their past or their hopes and dreams.

    There was also not even an illusion of a set end time, it went as long as the director wanted it to go and we were captive until they decided to release us. Sometimes it was a quick 45 minutes, and others we were there for excruciatingly long 3+ hour sessions. It was a small staff, less than 10 people, so nigh impossible to slip out early.

    It was not a healthy or productive work environment to say the least.

    1. Gatomon*

      I had an old job with a weekly 1.5 hour meeting, where agendas were included on penalty of public shaming, and I still wanted to bash my head in every morning. I would run screaming from this meeting room.

    1. juliebulie*

      That’s funny… I still joke about growing a long white beard.
      Actually, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened yet. Most of our meetings aren’t too bad, but once a year, Corporate likes to stun us with a 3+ hour snoozeathon and I am pretty sure my hair gets grayer in the process.

  33. Ann Furthermore*

    One time I was in a meeting with some people from another department, and we were trying to figure out how to handle something. We finished up with a list of action items, assigned them, and then agreed to have another meeting in a couple weeks with a decision maker who could make the final call. Someone them piped up and said that we needed another meeting before that one so we could discuss the next one. I said, “You want to have a meeting to talk about another meeting? No. I don’t have time for that. I will put together the presentation and send it out for review beforehand, and I’ll incorporate any changes into the final version.” Whoever said that was a little taken aback, and I was probably shorter with them than I should have been, but I just had to put my foot down.

    Tangentially related to making sure that you don’t have too many people in a meeting is making sure you don’t have too many people in software testing or training sessions. A few weeks ago I was leading a testing event onsite with a client, and there were way too many people, many of whom were higher-ups and would never be performing the functions that were being tested. It was really hard to keep everything on track so I could cover everything in the time that I had. The people who don’t really need to be there will go off onto tangents, ask questions that have already been discussed and settled, or just need a huge amount of hand-holding. There was one guy who has a lot of knowledge about the industry which is really valuable. Super nice, helpful, and friendly, but he’s an analog guy living in a digital world. I had to spend a lot of time showing him pretty basic functions like like logging into the system and navigating to the right place in the application, and it really ate up a lot of time.

    The person on the client side who scheduled all these sessions included them because they are the project stakeholders who signed off on all the requirements and design, so she thought it would be a good idea to have them there so they could see it all in action. But in retrospect she realized it was too disruptive. We are doing another round of testing in a few weeks, and agreed that the sessions had to stay small. Hopefully it will go better. Live and learn.

  34. Gumby*

    We do have meetings where the info could, probably, be conveyed via email. However! People here tend to skim and/or disregard email that isn’t immediately relevant to their current project – and only the parts of the project they care about. (Most employees work in labs and not at computers.) The saving grace is that these meetings are literally timed. When the buzzer goes off? Everyone claps and the meeting is over. Even if the person speaking was in the middle of a sentence.

    We also have more frustrating meetings that veer from the stated topic and go on forever. The timed meeting? By far my favorite.

    1. Alianora*

      That’s really true. Several of my coworkers get a ton of emails, and the only way to get an answer to anything is to talk to them in person. Usually that means I have to schedule a meeting with them.

  35. Half-Caf Latte*

    Due to emergency construction, all of our (already limited) meeting space is unavailable for 4-6 months.

    Our team got collectively told off for over-reliance on GoToMeeting, because dozens of cubes all down the row would be called into the same meeting and it was “creating a disturbance.” We’ve been told to make every effort to attend all meetings in person.

    Except, everything is getting booked into any open space in the org, 99% of which is offsite and in another part of the city. So, add in 30 minutes commute time each way plus expenses. For a meeting to talk about why we should not be attending remotely.

    Butts in seats is valued above all else, so then I have to go back to my main office for an hour here or there.

  36. Thor*

    Biggest issues I have seen in meetings:

    1) Poorly planned, and attendees not given an agenda to review beforehand

    2) Discussions getting totally derailed when someone has a very specific question that applies only to them or to just a small group of people. Rather than noting their question and waiting till after to discuss it with the appropriate person /manager /group they ask the question and we’re all just standing around while this irrelevant question is discussed for 15 minutes.

    1. 1234*

      #1 – Ask for an agenda or a bullet point of what is going to be covered.

      #2 – Feel free to interject and say “Is that something you can handle offline? In the essence of time, we’d like to move onto A, B, and C.”

      1. Thor*

        That would be ideal. I was just thinking of the last place i worked, and it really was just bad management and planning. We frequently complained especially about the people who asked their specific questions rather than holding them. We’d get a reminder to hold questions, but by the time the next meeting rolled around, people forgot to do so.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I hate the “regularly scheduled meetings, whether we actually need to meet or not” meetings.

      I am in one work group where hey, if there’s nothing to talk about, then the guy cancels the meeting. Also, almost every meeting is 5-20 minutes long almost all of the time.

    1. Manders*

      I think that’s the idea behind stand-up meetings, you’re keeping everyone just uncomfortable enough that they’ll want to get straight to the point.

  37. 1234*

    One of my managers at OldJob had a day where she had 7 meetings. She spent maybe an hour at her desk. She even said “I don’t have time to get anything done because I’m in meetings all day.”

    OldJob was famous for meetings about things that could have easily been conveyed via email. There was even a mandatory 15 min standing meeting regarding having too many meetings/meetings running long. I believe there was even an email sent out about meeting etiquette (who should be invited to X and Y meetings, sticking to schedule, etc.) Did not change a thing.

    Of course, I should have realized this early on when there was a mandatory company-wide meeting (~20 employees) on how to use the new Gmail-based work email that we were switching to because some people didn’t use Gmail and said they would be confused. I already knew how to use Gmail. I told my friend this story and he literally said “You spent 1-2 hours at work today learning how to use GMAIL?!”

    1. ACDC*

      Your first couple of sentences, in my opinion, are what lead to poor work-life balances because people feel like they have to work at night and on weekends to make up for the work they couldn’t get done since all of their work time was spent in meetings!

      1. 1234*

        Yup. That was one of the reasons I had no work life balance at that job. Along with mandatory “company outings” which is a whole different story.

  38. OhBehave*

    Our management team read Death By Meeting years ago. We were very successful in keeping meetings productive and agenda driven. Anyone who strayed were told to schedule a meeting with the appropriate people. The topic did not involve most of the people. Worked like a charm.
    There is a major employer in our city famous for meetings to discuss meetings. Nothing ever gets done!

  39. Junior Assistant Peon*

    My current job is a weird example of the opposite extreme – too few meetings, to the point that we’re all out of the loop on what everyone else is doing. It feels strange after having wasted a lot of time in unnecessary meetings at my last few jobs.

  40. Mimmy*

    At my job, we have daily meetings first thing each morning to make any schedule changes, bring up student issues and review students in preparation for case conferences. Sometimes, announcements are made. This all has to be accomplished in 20 minutes since instruction begins at 9:00 am. Sometimes we run over because someone is rambling or our director makes announcements before letting us discuss a student….it can be really maddening. I find myself resisting the urge to say something whenever this happens.

  41. Gatomon*

    Meetings are for discussion that leads to a decision. If there’s nothing to discuss, debate or decide, then there’s no reason for a meeting to occur, in my mind. The agenda and any pertinent background info should be provided in advance so that all attendees are well prepared to discuss the topics at hand and have a clear understanding of what is and is not on the table. The only exceptions I can think of are big organizational changes or decisions where a manager may need to coordinate the release of information or ensure staff understand the change/decision via discussion and not via the rumor-mill.

  42. Wem*

    We used to have a weekly meeting where over 20+ people went around the room telling everyone what they did the week before, probably 2 hours at least. I started baking for it just to keep people awake!

  43. Mizzle*

    If you do get stuck in a meeting that doesn’t appear to have an agenda: I’ve found that it helps to take initiative by walking over to the whiteboard and drawing up an agenda then and there. “Okay, so I hear that we need to arrange for llama housing, both long-term and short-term (these are sub-bullets) and that we have some safety concerns. Anything else?” The written list gives everyone something to focus on, and the phrasing helps to show that I’m only doing this to facilitate, not to take over the meeting.

  44. Alice*

    Every couple of weeks, my company has a meeting where people sit around a table wondering why we can’t meet our deadlines and how we can improve productivity. At one point I tallied the number of man hours wasted in pointless meetings and it was staggering. Unfortunately, I was forbidden from using logic to solve the problem of productivity, and thus the meetings continue unimpeded.

  45. KR*

    Check out Steven Rogelberg’s The Surprising Science of Meeting for research supported ways to improve meetings

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