Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 14, Issue 19;   May 7, 2014: The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: I

The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: I

by

By now, most of us realize how expensive meetings are. Um, well, maybe not. Here's a look at some of the most-often overlooked costs of meetings.
A virtual meeting of a particular fancy type

A virtual meeting of a particular fancy type involving advanced video telepresence. Since these kinds of facilities are shared, they must be scheduled, which is constraining, of course. But it also imposes a task burden on the meeting organizers and, in some cases, on the attendees. Image courtesy Oak Ridge National Laboratory, of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science.

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 meetings
advance 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 Go to top Top  Next issue: The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: II  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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Related articles

More articles on Effective Meetings:

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In group problem solving, diversity of opinion and healthy, reasoned debate ensure that our conclusions take into account all the difficulties we can anticipate. Lock-step thinking — and limited debate — expose us to the risk of unanticipated risk.
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Sometimes problem-solving sessions are difficult because we get started solving a problem before we know what problem we're solving. Understanding the connection between stakeholders, problem solving, and problem defining can reduce conflict and produce better solutions.
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There is much we can do to reduce the incidence of inattention in virtual meetings. Cooperation is required.
Stones: many, many stones.Stone-Throwers at Meetings: I
One class of disruptions in meetings includes the tactics of stone-throwers — people who exploit low-cost tactics to disrupt the meeting and distract all participants so as to obstruct progress. How do they do it, and what can the meeting chair do?
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With all due respect is an example of a category of linguistic forms known as formulaic utterances. They differ across languages and cultures, but I speculate that their functions are near universal. In the workplace, using them can be constructive — or not.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerComing October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
An owl of undetermined speciesAnd on October 19: Bullying by Proxy: I
The form of workplace bullying perhaps most often observed involves a bully and a target. Other forms are less obvious. One of these, bullying by proxy, is especially difficult to control, because it so easily evades most anti-bullying policies. Available here and by RSS on October 19.

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