When the partners started to investigate why everyone and their dog were wasting company money on meetings we didn't need to have, we started to notice a few trends:
1) There was no specific goal for the meeting
"Kickoff meetings" were a huge thing in our office. At the start of a new project, we'd get everyone together to discuss what was happening. Then in a few days, we'd have another meeting to discuss what had happened since then, and what would start happening in the future. Then we'd have a few smaller team meetings, and then we'd have another big kickoff meeting — the briefing.
It didn't take a data analyst crunching numbers like hard candy to identify that many of our meetings were premature. After all, if you don't even know what you're trying to accomplish, or the parameters you'll use to gauge success, why the heck would you have a meeting? Seems like some partner work, solo work time, and online correspondence could accomplish that.
2) There was no specific end time set, either
We'd step into these meetings with a seemingly infinite amount of time to play with. The only endpoint was dictated by whoever had the next meeting, meaning meetings would sometimes run on for over two hours, or bleed into other meetings. Many employees spent their entire days sitting in meetings. Let me be clear: it's very difficult to keep a conversation productive beyond the hour mark; anything beyond that is a really great date or just killing time.
3) No one was holding us to the two aforementioned (albeit non-exist) things
Perhaps our biggest mistake was not designating a leader of the meeting. We'd trickle into the conference room, fiddle with the technology until someone could figure out how to get our deck pulled up and our remote employees phoned in, and after those 15 minutes of fumbling, we'd all stare at each other and wait for someone to start the meeting.
If you want to have more productive meetings, the first thing you should do is designate someone to run them. It doesn't have to be the smartest person in the room, or even the project lead. It just needs to be someone comfortable with holding other people accountable and keeping the meeting on task. And yes, part of that means herding cats to make sure the right people are in the meeting.
4) And on that note, the right people were rarely in the right meetings
We either couldn't find time on the right people's schedule and had to move forward without them (big mistake), or had way too many bodies in the room. The truth was, everyone felt more critical to the situation than they really were — a crummy reality considering that nobody wants to be expendable on a big project.
But more than that, we simply hadn't figured out how to get input, direction, and buy-in from the right people without tying up their calendars for an hour. We didn't have checkpoints or filters in place to make sure projects were flowing smoothly. Had we instated these, we probably wouldn't have needed so many meetings.