This piece originally published on Forbes.com.
You probably remember a time in the recent past when your company didn’t really have many meetings. People passed along important information in the hallway and made big decisions over cold pizza late at night.
But as companies grow, so do their meeting calendars. That’s scary, because while some meetings are essential, others suck up energy and speed—two of the most important assets for any entrepreneurial company.
Consider this: My Bain colleagues used data mining tools to analyze the time budgets of 17 large corporations and found they spent an appalling amount of time on dysfunctional meetings. At one large company, we found that a weekly executive committee meeting required 300,000 person-hours per year of support work, preparatory meetings, and so on. That’s 34.22 years!
Can your company aspire to all the benefits and power of size that those large companies have without also letting meetings spread like forest fires, consuming widening circles of employees? The answer is yes, if you are vigilant. You can manage the time you invest in meetings as closely as you manage every other investment your company makes. Below are three things you can do:
Have a purpose. Most valuable meetings have one of three purposes—inform, discuss or decide. Before calling a meeting, think about whether you could inform people through a different medium such as a group email to reach an executive decision. If, however, a meeting is truly the best method, be clear on its purpose and desired outcome.
Manage the invite list. In small companies, it can feel terrible to be excluded from a meeting. But remind people that their time is valuable to the company. Every additional attendee adds cost and often slows down of progress.
Change the default time. Beware of automated scheduling. The typical default time of meetings is 60 minutes, even though every additional minute generates higher costs. How about going back to 30 minutes?
As your company grows, it doesn’t have to succumb to debilitating complexity. Next time you’re in the weekly meeting, ask yourself: Are we wasting our time here? Chances are other attendees are asking themselves the same question.
James Allen is co-leader of the global strategy practice at Bain & Company and co-author of the upcoming book “The Founder’s Mentality.”