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Meetings Are Not Free

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Managing projects always involves meetings. Let’s examine the cost to the organization when employees spend time in unproductive and ineffective meetings.


The Cost of Unproductive Meetings

How many hours per week do you spend in meetings; ten, fifteen? How about managers and staff in your organization? How many would you consider productive; ¼, ½, all? A 1993 study by the Wharton Center for Applied Research found that middle managers spent 11 hours a week in meetings of which they felt 56% of them were productive. Based on our experiences, we estimate this number has at least doubled in the last 10 years.

That means that people are spending an average of 22 hours per week in meetings of which no more than 12 are productive. Have you ever considered how much this costs your organization? Financially, it’s a straightforward calculation; however, there are other costs to the organization that are not as easy to calculate. The costs I’m talking about are opportunities lost, low morale and emotional effects.

The Cost of Lost Opportunity

Every time managers and employees spend time doing something unproductive, your organization is losing opportunities to generate revenue and save money if people weren’t wasting their time being unproductive.

The Cost of Low Morale

Through employee surveys and organizational studies, we have been able to determine that there is a decrease in morale when people spend their time in unproductive ways. In your organization, this means a decrease in an employees’ desire to work often resulting in late projects, increased time off and turnover.

The Cost of Emotional Effects

Boredom, frustration, and anger are some of the emotional effects that bleed over into other activities or consume time when people complain, commiserate or just plain goof off. This costs your organization money.

How to Improve Unproductive Meetings

Now, unproductive meetings are not the only things that limit opportunities, reduce morale and have negative emotional effects; nevertheless, they do have an impact and improving meeting productivity should be a priority at every organization. So how do you improve unproductive meetings? By following these three steps:

  1. Create an organizational culture that values good meeting behaviors by leaders and participants.
  2. Develop the core skills needed to facilitate effective meetings.
  3. Provide facilitators with a toolbox of tips, techniques, and methods they can use to be successful.

Create an Organizational Culture That Values Good Meeting Behaviors by Leaders and Participants

Showing up on time, respecting diversity and valuing everyone’s contribution are some of the behaviors that create good meeting cultures. Many leaders may believe that they can simply create a list of meeting behaviors everyone will use and that’s enough to create the culture they want.

However, any type of change requires involvement and participation at every level of the organization, so if these behaviors (or others) are important to creating a culture that values meetings, make sure senior leaders and managers at every level demonstrate these behaviors in every meeting and find ways that reward and recognize groups and teams that consistently demonstrate this new paradigm. It will take some time, but the benefits you achieve will help reduce the costs we identified earlier.

Develop the Core Skills Needed to Facilitate Effective Meetings

Leading group discussions, managing group dynamics and being able to engage groups in a process are core skills needed by anyone who leads and facilitates meetings. For that reason, it’s important to make an investment in practical, hands-on training to develop these skills. Then, give facilitators the opportunity to use these skills in the new culture you have started to create.

Provide Facilitators with a Toolbox of Tips, Techniques, and Methods They Can Use to Be Successful

You can create a good meeting culture and develop the skills needed to be a great facilitator, but facilitators need a toolbox of tools, techniques, and methods they can use that help them achieve the goals of a meeting. This toolbox should include tips on understanding group dynamics, handling difficult employees and meeting setups that support collaborative meetings.

It should include techniques such as brainstorming and group analysis that help groups generate ideas options and then select the best one (based on requirements and criteria). Finally, it should include methods the facilitator can use to move a group towards achieving the goal of the meeting.

So, what is it worth to your organization to improve meeting management skills? Better results, higher morale, and better bottom-line results. No matter what it is you want to achieve, you’ll likely find it by taking the steps above.

Ultimate Guide to Cross-Functional Collaboration

Cathy Cassidy

As the Managing Director of the International Matrix Management Institute, Cathy helps organizations and practitioners adopt the skills and methods they need to succeed in today’s complex, dynamic environment. She is a Matrix Management 2.0™ Master Consultant and the author of several books on matrix management, including her most recent publication, Managing Projects in a Matrix. She is a key contributor to the Matrix Management 2.0™ Body of Knowledge, co-developer of the Matrix Management 2.0™ organizational operating system, and a lead developer for the company.