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.
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:
- How We Avoid Making Decisions
- When an important item remains on our To-Do list for a long time, it's possible that we've found ways
to avoid facing it. Some of the ways we do this are so clever that we may be unaware of them. Here's
a collection of techniques we use to avoid engaging difficult problems.
- An Agenda for Agendas
- Most of us believe that the foundation of a well-run meeting is a well-formed agenda. What makes a "well-formed"
agenda? How can we write and manage agendas to make meetings successful?
- 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.
- Characterization Risk
- To characterize is to offer a description of a person, event, or concept. Characterizations are usually
judgmental, and usually serve one side of a debate. And they often make trouble.
- Polychronic Meetings
- In very dynamic contexts, with multiple issues to address, we probably cannot rely on the usual format
of single-threaded meeting with a list of agenda items to be addressed each in their turn. A more flexible,
issue-driven format might work better.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 24: The Stupidity Attribution Error
- In workplace debates, we sometimes conclude erroneously that only stupidity can explain why our debate partners fail to grasp the elegance or importance of our arguments. There are many other possibilities. Available here and by RSS on July 24.
- And on July 31: More Things I've Learned Along the Way: IV
- When I have an important insight, or when I'm taught a lesson, I write it down. Here's Part IV from my personal collection. Available here and by RSS on July 31.
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