Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 14, Issue 20;   May 14, 2014: The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: II

The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: II

by

Few of us realize where all the costs of meetings really are. Some of the most significant cost sources are outside the meeting room. Here's Part II of our exploration of meeting costs.
The George Washington Bridge, spanning the Hudson River between Manhattan and Fort Lee, New Jersey

The George Washington Bridge, spanning the Hudson River between Manhattan and Fort Lee, New Jersey. The view is from the New York side, looking slightly upstream. Note the suspension cables as they enter the anchor on the New York side. The Palisades provides anchoring on the New Jersey side. When we think of this suspension bridge, or suspension bridges generally, we're less aware of the anchoring than we are of the span. That is somewhat ironic, because the two towers of this bridge contain just over 43,000 tons of steelwork, whereas the New York anchor alone contains over 260,000 tons of masonry. In almost every sense that matters, the anchors of a suspension bridge are where the action is. Without them, all else fails.

So it is with meetings. Many of the elements that make a meeting work happen outside the meeting itself. Many of the elements that drive meeting costs, likewise, happen outside the meeting itself. More about the George Washington Bridge. Photo from the U.S. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Last time, we examined some foundational costs of meetings — invitations, the facility, and transport to and from. Let's now examine preparation activities. They aren't free, and some aren't cheap.

Rescheduling
When we reschedule meetings not yet held, we might poll the attendees, who must then respond to the poll. Some might have to reschedule commitments of their own to attend the newly rescheduled meeting. A cascade of little tasks can form, and since it potentially affects all attendees, its cost can be significant, though we rarely measure it or even estimate it.
Publishing minutes and podcasts
At first, one might think that there's a significant cost for reading minutes, because everyone has to do it. But hardly anybody reads minutes. On the other hand, someone does take minutes, writes them up, and posts them. And if there's a podcast, someone has to do that. Because scribing is usually a one-person job, we think of it as low-cost. But we lose access to this person's contributions during the meeting, because it's difficult to take minutes and participate fully. That lost access can have expensive consequences.
Preparing the agenda
You can save time on preparing agendas by not having them, but the cost is enormous, because meetings take longer and accomplish less — much of it wrong. So you have to do an agenda, but you can save time by not asking anyone for contributions. Nah, that doesn't work so well either, because meeting participants together compile agendas better than any one person can alone. So you end up having to poll people for contributions, and whenever you need to involve everyone in anything, costs climb. The costs in this case are worth it. They're just not zero. Really not zero.
Preparing introductions
Some meetings begin with rounds of introductions. Some skip the introductions, but instead circulate bios of attendees. Both approaches take time. For oral intros, attendees must plan what they'll say. Rescheduling a meeting triggers a
cascade of little tasks, whose
total cost can be significant
For written bios, attendees must write them, and someone has to compile them or provide a place where they can be posted. For recorded intros, attendees must plan, write, and deliver them. Some will even rehearse. It all takes time, and since everyone gets involved, the time taken can be significant.
Distributing materials
If materials accompany the meeting, the time to prepare them is usually accounted for. But the time to assemble them into distribution packages and get them delivered might not be. Such efforts usually get allocated to a bulk account that covers many different groups, if they are accounted for at all. The more often you meet, the more of these tasks you have. Find a way to meet less often.

Are you getting the idea that meetings cost more than you thought? I hope so. More next time. First in this series  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: III  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:

A meetingHow to Make Meetings Worth Attending
Many of us spend seemingly endless hours in meetings that seem dull, ineffective, or even counterproductive. Here are some insights to keep in mind that might help make meetings more worthwhile — and maybe even fun.
Carrot and stickIrrational Self-Interest
When we try to influence others, especially large groups or entire companies, we sometimes create packages of incentives and disincentives that are intended to affect behavior. These strategies usually assume that people make choices on rational grounds. Is this assumption valid?
Winston Churchill in the Canadian Parliament, December 30, 1941Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: III
When we need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, we risk giving offense. Still, there are times when interrupting is in everyone's best interest. Here are some more techniques for interrupting in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process.
Egyptian forces cross a bridge over the Suez Canal on October 7, 1973, during the Arab-Israeli WarGuidelines for Curmudgeon Teams
The curmudgeon team is a subgroup of a larger team. Their job is to strengthen the team's conclusions and results by raising thorny issues that cause the team to reconsider the path it's about to take. In this way they help the team avoid dead ends and disasters.
Sherlock Holmes and Doctor WatsonPre-Decision Discussions: Reasoning
When we meet to resolve issues related to upcoming decisions, we sometimes rely on reasoning to help find solutions. Contributions to these discussions generally use mixtures of deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning. How do they differ, and what are their strengths and risks?

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill BridgeComing May 29: Rescheduling: Project Factors
Rescheduling is what we do when we can no longer honor the schedule we have now. Of all causes of rescheduling, the more controllable are those found at the project level. Attending to them in one project can limit their effects on other projects. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
A switch in the tracks of a city tramwayAnd on June 5: The Reactive Rescheduling Cycle
When the current schedule is no longer viable, we reschedule. But rescheduling is unlike devising a schedule before work has begun. People know that we're "behind" and taking time to reschedule only makes things worse. Political pressure doesn't help. Available here and by RSS on June 5.

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