How To Avoid Unproductive Meetings At Work

Unclear roles and responsibilities

We’ve all had our fair share of monotonous, unproductive meetings. Rather than using that time to concentrate on goals and develop new ideas and practical solutions to problems, they end up being demotivating, tiring, and stressful.

This is extremely common in the workplace. In fact, a study by Atlassian found that the average employee attends 62 meetings a month, and a worrying 50% of them are considered a waste of time.

That’s a huge chunk of valuable company and personal time that goes to waste on a monthly basis. But it’s difficult to see exactly where the issues lie without putting them under the microscope.

In this article, company formation agent Rapid Formations, discusses the common factors that make meetings unproductive. They also suggest a few simple ways to streamline your business meetings and keep your team engaged and focused.

What makes a Meeting Unproductive?

We know that lengthy and unproductive meetings are common, but what exactly causes them? Here are some of the main contributors:

Poor planning and preparation

Poor planning and preparation are some of the biggest culprits of unsuccessful meetings. A Harvard Business Review study found that over 60% of work meetings don’t have a set agenda and nearly 40% don’t have one at all.

If there’s no plan, chances are it’ll be an unproductive use of time. Poor planning often makes it difficult to get started, stay on track, and even understand why the meeting is being held in the first place.


If employees are distracted by their phones, laptops, or noisy environments, for example, discussions can be vague and meaningless. The reality is that, once people switch off, it’s difficult to re-engage.

As a matter of fact, it’s been found that it takes roughly 23 minutes for people to get back on track once they’ve been distracted. That’s nearly half an hour of valuable company time that could be dedicated to sales, customer service, or other important areas of your business.

Unclear roles and responsibilities

Meetings with unclear roles are often a recipe for disaster. Without assigned responsibilities, it can leave many people unsure about what’s expected of them during the meeting and their potential follow-up duties.

This can also make workers question the usefulness of the meeting, which can cause them to switch off immediately.

Having too many people in a meeting can be equally inefficient and frustrating, and it can even slow the process down by nearly one-third.

Unsuitable locations

Meetings held in unsuitable locations are unlikely to be productive. If the environment is noisy, distracting, or even difficult for people to get to, this can all be grounds for an unsuccessful meeting.

How to avoid unproductive meetings

Even though they’re common, unproductive meetings are easy to avoid. Here are just a few simple ways that can help improve the meeting culture at your company:

Plan ahead

Writing a meeting agenda is the best way to plan and maximise productivity.

The agenda should outline the meeting leader, the attendees, the discussion points that will be covered, and the intended goals and outcomes. This way, you can clearly map out how long you should spend on the meeting, why it’s being held, and what you expect to get out of it.

The agenda should also be shared with the attendees in advance to give them a chance to prepare.

Keep the duration to a minimum

While the average meeting lasts between 31 and 60 minutes, studies by Golden Steps ABA have found that the optimal duration is 15-20 minutes.

Before setting up a meeting, create an agenda and estimate how long you’ll need. If you think it’ll last longer than 30 minutes, try and find ways to streamline it. Perhaps there are too many attendees or maybe part of the conversation could be had offline.

Keep the team focused

Engagement can be difficult to maintain, so asking questions regularly can help keep your team and make sure that everyone understands the discussion points.

If it’s a longer meeting, you may want to have a break every now and then and give people a chance to recharge.

Assign clear roles

Assign clear roles in advance to help everyone understand their responsibilities and how they should contribute to a productive outcome. This should include the meeting leader.

Try to streamline the list of attendees as much as possible and avoid inviting anyone who is unlikely to contribute value.

Avoid interruptions

Meetings should be held in professional locations to give everyone a suitable environment to focus and be productive. Unless they’re needed, ask the team to put laptops and phones away to avoid distractions.

Avoid unnecessary meetings

Firstly, consider if the meeting needs to be held in person. Unnecessary or lengthy travel times can contribute to poor use of time before the meeting even begins, so hold virtual meetings where appropriate.

Secondly, think about if the meeting is truly needed. For many people, it’s the sheer number of meetings they must attend that can be a huge demotivator. So, if you think it can be discussed in an email, you can save yourself and your team a lot of valuable time.

The cost of unproductive meetings

Naturally, wasted time has a financial impact on your business. So, when you find yourself in unproductive meetings, you’re losing money that could otherwise be used to grow your company.

Let’s put that into perspective. Going back Atlassian’s study, they used the estimated 62 monthly meetings to calculate the average cost of wasted business time. Assuming that each meeting is about an hour long and each employee earns $75,000 a year, that’s around $2,480 a month per person – or $30,000 (£24,826) a year – going to waste.

With half of those meetings being classed as unproductive, that’s $15,000 a year (£12,413) per employee going down the drain.

For SMEs, this is a significant cost that could make a huge difference to the company’s financial health. Even if your employees are on lower salaries, the theory is relative, and you’ll still be losing a substantial amount of money on unproductive meetings.

Has the pandemic made things worse?

Essentially, yes it has. While lockdowns fuelled a growing trend of shorter, more focused meetings, the number of meetings taking place increased during Covid-19.

Before the pandemic, the average meeting lasted between 30 minutes and 1 hour, taking up 10% of the work week. Mid-pandemic, there was a 10% increase in overall meeting time, a 22% increase in short meetings, and 21.5 hours per week were spent in meetings. Post-pandemic, we’ve seen 60% of people attending more meetings than pre-pandemic.

The effects on your business

It’s important to note that unproductive meetings can affect people beyond the meeting itself. A survey by the University of North Carolina found that 65% of senior managers said their workflow is interrupted by meetings and another 64% admitted that they feel “robbed” of valuable time.

These eye-opening figures bring attention to the wider effects of inefficient meetings. With so many people leaving them feeling demotivated, their work output after the meeting takes a big hit.

What does this mean for business owners? Having unmotivated workers means that your business isn’t getting the attention and energy it needs to grow. So, it could be time to take a step back, reevaluate your meeting culture, and make sure that everyone’s time is being used as efficiently as possible.


Unproductive meetings have been common for some time now. Even though we’ve been drawing more attention to them recently with an aim to increase efficiency, many workplaces still fail to spot these crucial errors that could be costing them valuable time and money.

If this is an area for improvement in your business, there are several simple ways that can help you can maximise productivity in meetings.

About author

Carl Herman is an editor at DataFileHost enjoys writing about the latest Tech trends around the globe.