So far in our exploration of meeting costs, we've examined setup costs and preparation costs — activities driven mostly by the meeting organizer, the scribe, or others with formal roles supporting or leading the meeting. Let's now look at how meeting participants spend time.
- Waiting for people who are late
- During the meeting, we sometimes delay the start until everyone, or at least some important folks, arrive. The cost, though, isn't just the time spent sitting around. The cost often appears in the form of lower quality output that results from rushing other parts of the meeting to make up the lost time, or from deferring some agenda items to the next meeting.
- Tolerating lateness is an expensive habit. If you often wait for late arrivals, schedule time for it and hold it in reserve until you need it. Making this time visible is a first step toward controlling it.
- Preparing reports
- In most meetings, some people deliver reports about some things. They must prepare what to say, perhaps making a short handout or presentation. If they have some not-so-good news, they prepare answers to questions. Some even spend time preparing what not to say, or how to spin their reports to seem less bad than they are.
- All this takes time. Ask for reports only when they're really needed.
- Preparing nasty political attacks and defenses against them
- Probably your organization's accounting system doesn't track time invested in nasty political attacks or preparing defenses against them. Time gets spent on these activities anyway. That time must be charged to something else.
- The more toxic the conflict among the meeting attendees, the more time and money is spent on this activity, even if the conflict is covert. Letting ongoing toxic conflict fester is expensive. Deal with it.
- Preparing presentations
- Some people are scheduled to present more formally, with a longer time slot — 20 minutes or more. They prepare slides and handouts, they rehearse, they gather auxiliary material, and so on.
- Too often, The more toxic the conflict
among the meeting attendees,
the more time and money is
spent on this activity, even if
the conflict is covertmuch of what's presented is unnecessary. Trim these presentations. Nobody ever changes their minds about anything after the first 20 minutes of a presentation. Ask for the express version.
- Reporting on action items
- During the meeting, when we assign action items, we record them for tracking purposes. Fine. But in subsequent meetings, we tend to ask for status too early or too often. Some do this to encourage progress.
- If you don't expect significant progress on a particular action item, don't ask for a status report. If you want to encourage progress, find a cheaper way — a private conversation, for example.
What can you do to reduce these costs? Take that as an action item. I don't need a report. First 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:
- Mastering Meeting Madness
- If you lead an organization, and people are mired in meeting madness, you can end it. Here are a few
tips that can free everyone to finally get some work done.
- The Solving Lamp Is Lit
- We waste a lot of time finding solutions before we understand the problem. And sometimes, we start solving
before everyone is even aware of the problem. Here's how to prevent premature solution.
- What, Why, and How
- When solving problems, groups frequently get stuck in circular debate. Positions harden even before
the issue is clear. Here's a framework for exploration that can sharpen thinking and focus the group.
- Untangling Tangled Threads
- In energetic discussions, topics and subtopics get intertwined. The tangles can be frustrating. Here's
a collection of techniques for minimizing tangles in complex discussions.
- Virtual Meetings: Indicators of Inattention
- If you've ever led a virtual meeting, you're probably familiar with the feeling that some attendees
are doing something else. Here are some indicators of inattention.
See also Effective Meetings and Workplace Politics for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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