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:
- Games for Meetings: IV
- 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 IV of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
- Using the Parking Lot
- In meetings, keeping a list we call the "parking lot" is a fairly standard practice. As the
discussion unfolds, we "park" there any items that arise that aren't on the agenda, but which
we believe could be important someday soon. Here are some tips for making your parking lot process more
- Barriers to Accepting Truth: I
- In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which
some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the
credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen?
- Pre-Decision Discussions: Emotions
- Some meeting agendas include exploring issues related to upcoming decisions. Although we believe that
these discussions lead to rational decisions, some contributions evoke possibly misleading emotional
responses. Here are five examples.
- The Six Dimensions of Online Disinhibition: II
- The online disinhibition effect appears in computer-mediated communications. It is due to relaxation
of inhibitions that demand civility. It's still impactful 20 years after its identification, but it
might be less so in today's workplace cyberspace.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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