Meetings have a bad reputation. People complain, but they have to attend, so mostly, they do. Sometimes late, sometimes inattentively, but they do attend. One explanation for this bad reputation is that we just have too many meetings. We could do well with fewer. And one reason why we don't work harder at eliminating or shortening them might be that we don't fully appreciate how expensive they are.
To help fix that, I offer this brief survey of the true costs of meetings, end-to-end. I'm focusing on the cost components that are less-than-obvious, and possibly difficult to quantify with precision. My hope is that the case for fewer, shorter meetings can be strong enough without actual numeric estimates of costs. Let's start with the pre-meeting activities.
- Inviting people
- Someone has to decide who attends. That might involve discussions with responsible parties. These discussions can get complicated occasionally, involving people who can be very busy. Once the invitation list is set, someone has to post invitations in the calendar system, or send email invitations, or whatever. The inviting activity is usually a low-cost task, but if it's delayed by bottlenecks or negotiations about who's available when and for how long, the delay can make scheduling difficult. That's why invitation setting often has a high priority. And when that priority causes delays of other tasks, the costs can mount. Those delay costs are rarely recognized for what they are — a cost of meetings.
- Setting up the facility
- Whether the meeting is face-to-face or virtual, we need a (possibly virtual) place to hold it. Someone has to reserve it. That might require swapping with other contenders for the space, or it might require scheduling the facility so far in When the need to decide the attendance
list takes priority over other work, delaying
that work, those delay costs are rarely
recognized for what they are —
a cost of meetingsadvance that nobody else will be able to claim it. Sometimes the need to schedule in advance causes us to have regularly scheduled meetings even when the primary need we're satisfying is keeping a claim on the facility, rather than the business we transact. That tactic adds to the burden of too many meetings. It's an example of addressing the right problem with the wrong tool, which is rarely a smart way to go. Find another way to lay claim to the facility.
- Getting to and from the meeting
- People who attend in person in a place other than where they work must transport themselves to and fro. Even if the meeting is virtual, attendees at various sites might have to meet in conference rooms for the videoconference or teleconference. People who must travel to attend have an even greater time cost. And people who attend virtual meetings without leaving their own offices might have to set up their connections, log in, and possibly even install software. All of this adds to costs, and it's significant because it affects every attendee.
We'll continue next time with more underappreciated cost generators. Next 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:
- What Makes a Good Question?
- In group discussion or group problem solving, many of us focus on being the first one to provide the
answer. The right answer can be good; but often, the right question can be better.
- Allocating Airtime: I
- The problem of people who dominate meetings is so serious that we've even devised processes intended
to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
- Virtual Brainstorming: I
- When we need to brainstorm, meeting virtually carries a risk that our results might be problematic.
Here's Part I of some steps to take to reduce the risk.
- Dealing with Meeting Hijackings
- When you haven't prevented a meeting hijacking, and you believe a hijacking is underway, what can you
do? How can you regain control?
- Chronic Peer Interrupters: II
- People use a variety of tactics when they're interrupted while making contributions in meetings. Some
tactics work well, while others carry risks of their own. Here's Part II of a little survey of those tactics.
See also Effective Meetings and Workplace Politics for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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