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Volume 14, Issue 21;   May 21, 2014: The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: Part III

The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: Part III

by

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.
An early automotive assembly line trial

"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 covert
much 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  Go to top Top  Next issue: Exasperation Generators: Opaque Metaphors  Next Issue

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo 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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See also Effective Meetings and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Balancing talk time and the value of the contributionComing March 29: Virtual Blowhards
Controlling meeting blowhards is difficult enough in face-to-face meetings, but virtual meetings present next-level problems, because techniques that work face-to-face are unavailable. Here are eight tactics for controlling virtual blowhards. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
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Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum? Available here and by RSS on April 5.

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