A recent post on Seth Godin’s Blog proposed making meetings more expensive to give companies an incentive to have fewer, better organized meetings, a topic that apparently resonated since it was Tweeted over 1000 times.
I enjoyed the post but couldn’t help reflecting that meetings are already expensive because no matter how efficient or necessary a meeting is, people are getting paid to sit there instead of doing other stuff.
What does a meeting cost? There are several ways to calculate this. You could do a straight (hourly salary * # hours) calculation for all participants then tack on travel, facilities and refreshments. Or you could get more creative:
“I once amused myself by estimating the per pound cost of a two hour meeting. There were twenty-two knowledge workers in the room and I decided that on average they earned about $120K, weighed 155 lbs and worked about 50 hours a week. After various calculations, I concluded that this meeting was costing $2200 plus food, or approximately .65 cents a pound.” (Source: Collaboration, $1.99/Lb)
As a former consulting project manager, it’s always amazing to me how many companies ignore how fixed salaries are allocated to work, especially given that American productivity is at an all-time low. There are some obvious culprits, such as burn out and increased complexity, but also cited is the habit of throwing too many people at every problem.
It’s called ‘collaboration.’ Done well, it can achieve creative breakthroughs and create a feeling of involvement. Done poorly, it fritters away both salary and capacity.
Harvard Business Review wrote a post about why we secretly love meetings: 1) People enjoy the social contact; 2) they keep everyone in the loop; and 3) being included equates to status.
All of these reasons are flawed from a business perspective: 1) There are better ways to socialize; 2) only attendees are in the loop; and 3) being productive creates more business value than being seen.
Whether or not you agree with me, the workforce is rapidly expanding to include more remote and contingent workers. That means that companies are going to have to find cheaper, more effective ways than meetings to collaborate if they want to be successful.
Some tips for reducing meeting deadweight:
- Have fewer meetings – Is a meeting really necessary or would a short written status update do as well?
- Have a clear topic owner - This person should do the basic groundwork before bringing in a room full of people and also be empowered to make final decisions.
- Invite fewer people – Who really needs to be there? I mean, really?
- Take notes and share them with a wider group of stakeholders - You expand your collaborative reach that way without pulling people away from their own work.
- Invest in some proper collaboration tools - Don't email documents, meeting notes and responses around the company or before you know it, you'll need a meeting.
- Get a life – The team meeting shouldn’t be your main social event.
The catch: As the workforce continues to disperse, the written word will be the key to effective day-to-day collaboration. However, this shift will require professionals to read faster and write more clearly and concisely than most of them do today.
In the perfect world that I am envisioning, no one will ever again have to read (or be allowed to write) a ten-page status report or a rambling topic synopsis consisting mainly of technical acronyms.
Bottom line: If you don't control your meetings they'll control you.
Picture courtesy of youwillneverfind.us.
Laura Schroeder is a Compensation Strategist at Workday, headquartered in Pleasanton, CA. She has nearly fifteen years of experience designing, developing, implementing and evangelizing global Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions and holds a certificate in Strategic Human Resources Practices from Cornell University. Her articles and interviews on HCM topics have been published in the US, Europe and Asia. She lives in Munich, Germany and enjoys cooking, reading, writing, kick boxing and spending time with friends and family. If you want to read more from Laura, check out her talent management blog Working Girl or follow her on Twitter @WorkGal.