"We're having a meeting." Those four words are the bane of every productive worker's existence.

Meetings have become a major problem. In fact, research from MIT Sloan Management (opens in a PDF) found the average employee spends about six hours weekly in scheduled meetings, while senior managers spend as much as 23 hours of their week this way. Between 25% and 50% of all these meetings are considered ineffective, according to a study from the University of Nebraska (opens in a PDF). This means additional meetings are necessary to resolve issues. 

And U.S. employers pay a big cost for this, to the tune of around $37 billion annually. Your company probably doesn't want to spend a fortune so employees can sit around a table drinking bad coffee and having unproductive conversations -- so you'll need to watch for signs that meetings are too numerous at your organization. Here are three of them:  

Business people attending a meeting.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Meetings are the primary means of communication

Do people at your organization meet about every issue, from matters as important as developing new product lines to details as trivial as what brand of toner should be used? If so, you're probably wasting a lot of time. Instead of making meetings your default solution for solving problems or addressing issues, ask yourself these simple questions recommended by a time-management coach writing for Harvard Business Review:

  • Have you tried to solve the problem or address the situation on your own? 
  • Do you need outside input, and does it have to come from a real-time conversation held face to face?

If you haven't tried to handle the task independently, set aside time to do so. If you decide you need input, consider whether it can come from an email, Slack chat, or phone conversation. Only schedule a meeting if you've decided you need an in-person conversation that's more in-depth than can be had via phone. 

2. You're having meetings without a clear agenda

If you've scheduled a meeting, you need to know:

  • What you want to get out of it.
  • What the agenda will be.
  • How long it will take.
  • Who needs to provide input.

If you cannot answer every one of these questions, you have no business having a meeting until you can. Once you have clear answers, invite only the people necessary to accomplish your aims, and schedule a brief meeting just long enough to address the core issues. 

3. Everyone comes to your meetings

When meetings are too large, they're much less likely to be productive. There's also a greater chance they will be attended by employees who have no business being there. And, there's a greater chance side issues will come up that derail the meeting and result in a need for follow-up get-togethers. 

To put together the attendees list for your meetings:

  • Identify which primary stakeholders are directly affected by the issues being discussed.
  • Determine if any employees are subject-matter experts, or have relevant updates the team needs to know.

If certain employees' input isn't directly needed to address issues -- and what's being discussed won't directly impact their work performance -- those employees don't need to attend. 

Your company can break the meeting mindset

Ultimately, the only way for your organization to avoid wasting money on meetings is to have fewer of them and hold them only when necessary. If your calendar is filled with meetings that everyone attends via habit, clear the calendar and start over.

You'll quickly see which issues you actually need to meet about and can put those matters back on the calendar. For everything else, you'll find alternative ways to communicate that are likely way more effective -- and that will leave more time for team members to actually get work done.