The End-to-End Cost of Meetings:
by Rick Brenner
Many complain about attending meetings. Certainly meetings can be maddening affairs, and they also cost way more than most of us appreciate. Understanding how much we spend on meetings might help us get control of them. Here's Part III of a survey of some less-appreciated costs.
"1913 - Trying out the new assembly line" by an unknown photographer, Detroit, Michigan, 1913. Assembly lines can provide efficiencies no other mode of production can match. But the efficiencies come at a price. One component of that price is that the lines need a steady stream of parts, delivered on time. On March 17, 2011, General Motors announced that it would idle the assembly plant in Shreveport, Louisiana, because of a shortage of parts from Japan, which had experienced a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11. Coordination is essential to assembly line efficiency.
So it is with meetings. We conduct meetings because we need an efficient means of collaborating and exchanging information. If attendees can't attend, or can't arrive on time, that efficiency is compromised.
Photo courtesy U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
So far in our exploration of meeting costs, we've examined setup costs and preparation costs — activities driven mostly by the meeting organizer, the scribe, or others with formal roles supporting or leading the meeting. Let's now look at how meeting participants spend time.
- Waiting for people who are late
- During the meeting, we sometimes delay the start until everyone, or at least some important folks, arrive. The cost, though, isn't just the time spent sitting around. The cost often appears in the form of lower quality output that results from rushing other parts of the meeting to make up the lost time, or from deferring some agenda items to the next meeting.
- Tolerating lateness is an expensive habit. If you often wait for late arrivals, schedule time for it and hold it in reserve until you need it. Making this time visible is a first step toward controlling it.
- Preparing reports
- In most meetings, some people deliver reports about some things. They must prepare what to say, perhaps making a short handout or presentation. If they have some not-so-good news, they prepare answers to questions. Some even spend time preparing what not to say, or how to spin their reports to seem less bad than they are.
- All this takes time. Ask for reports only when they're really needed.
- Preparing nasty political attacks and defenses against them
- Probably your organization's accounting system doesn't track time invested in nasty political attacks or preparing defenses against them. Time gets spent on these activities anyway. That time must be charged to something else.
- The more toxic the conflict among the meeting attendees, the more time and money is spent on this activity, even if the conflict is covert. Letting ongoing toxic conflict fester is expensive. Deal with it.
- Preparing presentations
- Some people are scheduled to present more formally, with a longer time slot — 20 minutes or more. They prepare slides and handouts, they rehearse, they gather auxiliary material, and so on.
- Too often, The more toxic the conflict
among the meeting attendees,
the more time and money is
spent on this activity, even if
the conflict is covertmuch of what's presented is unnecessary. Trim these presentations. Nobody ever changes their minds about anything after the first 20 minutes of a presentation. Ask for the express version.
- Reporting on action items
- During the meeting, when we assign action items, we record them for tracking purposes. Fine. But in subsequent meetings, we tend to ask for status too early or too often. Some do this to encourage progress.
- If you don't expect significant progress on a particular action item, don't ask for a status report. If you want to encourage progress, find a cheaper way — a private conversation, for example.
What can you do to reduce these costs? Take that as an action item. I don't need a report. First in this series Top Next Issue
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
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More articles on Effective Meetings
- Games for Meetings: Part I
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's Part I of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we can do about them.
- Have a Program, Not Just an Agenda
- In the modern organization, it's common to have meetings in which some people have never met — and some never will. For these meetings, which are often telemeetings, an agenda isn't enough. You need a program.
- Divisive Debates and Virulent Victories
- When groups decide divisive issues, harmful effects can linger for weeks, months, or forever. Although those who prevail might be ready to "move on," others might feel so alienated that they experience even daily routine as fresh insult and disparagement. How a group handles divisive issues can determine its success.
- When the Chair Is a Bully: Part I
- Most meetings have Chairs or "leads." Although the expression that the Chair "owns" the meeting is usually innocent shorthand, some Chairs actually believe that they own the meeting. This view is almost entirely destructive. What are the consequences of this attitude, and what can we do about it?
- When the Chair Is a Bully: Part II
- Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
See also Effective Meetings and Workplace Politics for more related articles.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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