I don’t have to suffer nearly as many meetings as some. Maybe that’s why lately, as I’ve found myself being drawn into more of them I’ve developed an uneasy feeling towards this sacrosanct ritual of daily work life. Meetings are convenient and easy to initiate, but they’re also wasteful on many levels. I get that sometimes you need to meet face to face. I just think that 90% of the time, you don’t.
What Does a Meeting Actually Cost?
I think the fundamental flaw in our thinking around meetings is that they are cheap, but consider the actual cost of any given meeting:
When you call a meeting you’re stopping each invited attendee from doing work. This can not be overstated enough. Their work is what you bill for, not meetings. The more meetings you insist on holding the more time your employees will spend doing something you can’t actually charge for.
Maybe you think I’m overplaying the financial ramifications of getting a few people in a room. But I’m convinced there’s no such thing as a short meeting. Every meeting is at least an hour long. Here’s why:
Meetings start before they begin. Attendees need to prep for the meeting, which takes time. And if/when they don’t you’re in for a 5-15 minute introduction to get people up to speed.
Meetings go over-time. Very seldom does a meeting take less time than you were expecting? I’ve worked with only one company in my career who consistently run tight meeting schedules. They have a buzzer.
Meetings break momentum. Next time you call a meeting, make an effort to observe what happens directly afterward. Here’s what I see: Attendees spend 5-10 minutes procrastinating, making a cup of tea, checking emails or Facebook before reopening that document. It’s not laziness it’s human nature. Factor that into your total meeting time.
Meetings end long after they end. It’ll be at least 20-30 minutes before the people you called to the meeting are in the “zone” again. And just like that, a seemingly benign meeting has consumed an hour of your day.
Your clients didn’t pay for a minute of that, you did. Now multiply the cost (in hours/revenue) by the number of attendees at said meeting and extrapolate that to the number of meetings your business has a week.
When you start looking at a meeting as a hard cost, you start seeing it very differently. Was calling those 3 people into a room so you could read through a presentation and ask a few questions worth it? Sometimes it might be. Most times it won’t be.
Any way you look at it, meetings aren’t cheap.
Why We Have Too Many Meetings.
I call meetings all the time. So a lot of this is as much self-reflection as it is observance. Chances are that if you have meetings intensive culture in your company it’s a symptom of either one or many of the following:
A poor communication culture. No one talks unless they’re forced to around a table. It may come down to relational issues, but it’s most likely because that you haven’t placed communication structures in place. And no I’m not talking about email.
Business critical information is living in people, rather than systems. You call meetings because you need access business information. The more information you need, the more people you need, the more expensive your meeting.
You’re disorganized. You don’t plan enough. You don’t attack the canvas on your own. It’s easier to move things forward if everyone is in the same room as you, so you can fire off questions and get answers off the cuff, without prepping. That may work for you, but does it benefit everyone else in the room?
You value your time more than others. I’m convinced that managers who call meetings frequently do so because they see it as the most economical way for them to extract the information they need. It may be economical for you perhaps, but not necessarily for everyone else.
Lack of trust. You don’t think your people will follow through and meet deadlines or do their job properly.If you find this is an issue you have with everyone, it says more about you than the people you work with.
Before You Call a Meeting, Consider:
- Am I calling this meeting for me, or for the benefit of each person attending the meeting?
- Could this meeting not happen if I just read the 20 emails I ignored while was busy?
- Could this meeting not happen if I just read through the Messenger/Slack/Team messaging app logs?
- Could this “meeting” not take place over the course of a day or two as an email?
- If I’m going to use an hour of several people’s time, am I willing to put at least 30 minutes into preparing the agenda so it runs smoothly, and at least 30 mins afterward turning the discussion into actionable points?
Creating meetings to manage and deal with the symptoms of poor processes will never solve them, only incubate them. So, yes, let’s meet when we need to, but let’s also make sure that our meetings aren’t band-aids for leadership or systemic incompetence.
Meetings are expensive. Don’t use them cheaply.