We all know that meetings are expensive. In fact, one of the most expensive things a business does. But that expense goes well beyond the actual meeting itself. One-hour meetings, many of us have them all the time while at work but their not really just 1 hour of time taken away. If you have 8 people in that meeting, it’s really an 8 hour meeting as you’ve taken up 8 hours of productivity within that hour. But that’s only a fraction of the true cost of that meeting. Usually, some members need to prepare for that meeting but there’s a much more costly piece to the equation.
I’m mostly talking about weekly or recurring meetings. There’s certainly an importance to team and project status meetings but we must be careful of what they are for and why you are having them. How many people have had that one hour a week same time meeting where an agenda is passed out and we go through the items one by one? And then people get assigned some deliverables for the next meeting. You see, not only is it easy to get into the trap of having meetings just to have meetings but we also fall into the trap of letting meetings become tollgates.
Tollgates are a certainly good thing but a weekly or worse a monthly meeting shouldn’t be the primary tool for defining the delivery of deliverables. What this does is time box things that could be done in a day into something that is delivered in 5 or more days. This doesn’t sound like a big deal except it compounds over the course of months and years. Meetings begin to slow us down like running in mud.
Then there is the other problem, trying to set up a meeting time that is good for all parties. You know the meeting, the one you had to push out for weeks due to everyone’s schedule. You’ve just created a mountain of stagnation for weeks! Human nature wants everyone to be physically together at least virtually on the phone but really challenge that impulse unless it really needs people together at a specific moment.
The worst are the meetings where a ton of people are involved to discuss a problem that in actuallity costs less than the attendees in the meeting. Know the scope of the meeting’s impact based on the scope of the issue. Discuss issues like these over lunch or a few one-on-ones. Don’t slow down everyone on small issues.
The number one reason for business travel today is still meetings. Face to face interaction is surely important at times but try to do them sparingly. Travel is good to introduce new people, project kickoffs and every once in a while team building and workshops but not much more. It keeps your costs down plus it reduces a lot of dead time such as going through airports and finding the right date for all to travel.
It’s also a huge myth that you need everyone at every meeting, it’s a huge mistake leaders make by “trying to include everybody” all the time. Don’t do your team any favors, chances are they would rather be at their desk working on whatever project they are working anyway. Let them get to it and stay at it.
Many of these situations are where a communication tool should shine. Pick your poison of the tool whether it be email, a portal or something more “2.0ish” but pick one and use it universally. Make it clear that this is the primary communication tool and make everyone accountable to keeping up with it. The other key point is that the activity is recorded and can be referred to later as opposed to each person’s version of notes (or lack of). Far too often, people will schedule a meeting for a purpose that could just as easily be handled electronically or in a drop-by conversation. Have meetings when things appear to be misunderstood or out of sync but also address the people who aren’t reading the information if you see a trend.
Yes, I know some are concerned about how we are moving farther and farther away from real, face-to-face, human interaction. How we send emails and IMs rather than a phone call instead of meetings around a table over a cup of coffee. I get it, I really do, but understand how much meetings are slowing your team or company down on the core objectives. Social tools have proven that you can grow and improve a group’s working relationship and efficiency without much face-to-face time.
Most meetings are very expensive when you think about the potential productivity lost or diverted. I’m not saying that all meetings are bad as there is always going to be a need for time to sync up or brainstorm. Meetings certainly form an essential part of the communication process. If you need a meeting, it’s probably best to schedule it early or late in the work day so you have the best chance of not interrupting anyone’s workflow. But really think about whether you need a meeting or can a social communication tool tackle the job. Don’t let your meetings create a pace that allow your competition to run past you.