Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 32;   August 10, 2016: Costs of the Catch-Me-Up Anti-Pattern: I

Costs of the Catch-Me-Up Anti-Pattern: I

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Your meetings start on time, but some people are habitually late. When they arrive, they ask, "What did I miss? Catch me up." This is an expensive way to do business. How expensive is it?
Time is money

We all recognize the wastefulness of summarizing the first ten or fifteen minutes of a meeting for someone who arrives late, but we might not fully appreciate the scale of the waste. So let's start there. For a meeting of N people whose average fully loaded salary per year is S, taking M minutes to recap the part of the meeting the late arrival missed will cost N*S*M/(260 days/year * 8 hours/day * 60 minutes/hour) = 0.0000080128*N*S*M. The numbers in that formula come from the assumptions that there are 260 work days in a work year, and 8 hours (nominally) in a work day. So, for example, if S is, say, $180K, and M is 2 minutes, and there are ten people in the meeting, then the cost of a two-minute recap for the late arrival is $28.85 per incident. If, in a weekly team meeting, there is one recap incident per week, the cost per year is $1,500.00.

Shocking, but that's just the beginning. The full cost of a two-minute recap for late arrivals, considering all cost sources, is difficult to compute precisely, but we can easily show how it can be ten or a thousand times higher.

Let's begin by examining how accommodating late arrivals affects the people who arrive on time.

Intentional time wasting
When some People who do arrive on
time can sometimes harbor
resentments of those who
habitually arrive late
meeting leads realize that there are habitual late arrivals, they tend to plan their agendas to avoid anything important in the first few minutes of their meetings. This is an popular tactic when the late arrivals have significant organizational power. The items addressed in these situations are often items that could have been handled in email or by some means other than meetings. What's the cost of this misspent meeting time?
Frustration and resentment
People who do arrive on time can sometimes harbor resentments of those who habitually arrive late. The on-timers might not express those resentments directly, particularly if the late arrivals outrank them. In some cases, the on-timers might not even be aware of their feelings of resentment. Nevertheless, resentments, expressed or not, can be obstacles to effective teamwork. What's the cost of disharmony?
Increase in frequency of late arrivals
When attendees who would not otherwise arrive late realize that there are some habitual late arrivals, they adopt a time saving strategy of their own: they also arrive late. The calculation is, "Why should I arrive on time when I know there will be a recap after the first ten minutes?" This is an especially tempting strategy for those who harbor resentment of the meeting lead's accommodation of habitual late arrivals. Habitual late arrivals thus tend to generate additional late arrivals among those who would otherwise arrive on time. Then we might need two recaps.

We'll turn our attention next time to the effect of late arrivals and their recap requests on the quality of meeting output.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Costs of the Catch-Me-Up Anti-Pattern: II  Next Issue

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