Meetings – Too Often a Waste of Time

Posted: November 1, 2011 in Business Processes
Tags: ,

How much time have you wasted in meetings? As I consider what next practices businesses should follow to move forward in innovation, collaboration, communication and efficiency, it is logical to also consider what doesn’t work. And the first barrier to productive time that comes to mind is attendance at meetings.

Some common issues I see with meetings include:

  • Most simply aren’t necessary compared to the alternative of a few key players taking the time to phone, visit or email each other.
  • There are too many people invited. One recent meeting I attended had 23 invitees. When I saw the list my first response was “Jesus only needed 12 people and look what he accomplished!”
  • The duration is set up for the default hour-long block of time used by the scheduling application. Change the default to something shorter.
  • Too often there is no clear agenda or no accountability for staying on topic.
  • Lack of documentation of what is decided or who owns what actions items resulting from the meeting open the door to confusion and disagreement later.
  • Some people are apparently afraid to speak their mind in the meeting, especially in disagreement with someone higher up the org chart, but then unload afterward privately when their thoughts can no longer be considered in the decision-making process.

I’m sure you can contribute to the list with additional issues you’ve encountered.

All of the above problems contribute to time wasted in meetings, but have you literally calculated the financial cost of a recent meeting or series of meetings?

Meeting Cost TimerOn my Android smartphone I have a simple little free app called Meeting Cost Timer. Among the settings you configure is the cost per person per hour. Say, for example, that your company uses an average of $43/hour for its project cost estimates. That would be the figure you plug in to the app. Then, when it comes time for a meeting you can open the app, set the number of people in the meeting and start the timer. It keeps updated on the screen the ongoing cost of the meeting until you pause or stop the counting. The cost of that recent meeting with 23 people for one hour at this rate? $989 not including prep time and walking time to and from another building. Was there a less expensive way to accomplish what happened? I would bet $989 on it.

Of course I’m not saying all meetings are bad; they aren’t. But we have allowed organizational cultures to grow where we don’t use our time very wisely. Managers can’t manage or provide real leadership to teams if they are in meetings all day. Worker bees can’t get the work complete that they are accountable for if constantly taken away from their focus. In a culture where we expect to quantify the ROI of nearly everything, why aren’t we asking about the ROI of meetings? I don’t think we’d like the answers.

I’m fond of the advice I read from someone recently (can’t remember who or where)… The writer suggested declining your first meeting currently scheduled for next week if that meeting was called by someone else. He suggested that if the topic was critical for you to know about and do something about then people will find a way to contact you and discuss it without the meeting. Plus, he suggested that if the first meeting on your schedule next week is one you called, then cancel it and don’t reschedule it. Just find a different way to communicate and collaborate and get the job done. It’s an interesting suggestion.

So think about the issues in the bullets at the top of this post and your own additions to them. Can’t we find a better way to spend our time and accomplish what we’ve been hired to do? (Here’s a hint: think collaborative and social tools).


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