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  August 2, 2013
Death by Meetings...



"The least productive people in the world are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings."

~Thomas Sowell 

Before I started OptiFuse, I worked in what is commonly known as "corporate America".

As in most large companies, I often found myself in meetings that appeared to last forever and seldom seemed to accomplish much of anything. I’ve come to tolerate these meeting under the premise that these meeting allow people to be heard, share important information, and contribute to the overall welfare of the company.


As a classic example, at the company I was working for, each and every Monday, our entire sales staff, consisting of 10 sales engineers, 3 regional managers, and one district manager (plus his assistant to help take notes) would meet to discuss the sales efforts, review the results from the previous week, and be given directives for the week ahead of us.  During the meeting, each of us would be required to give a 10-minute report on what we did during the previous week and what we hoped to do in the upcoming week.

During those times when I wasn’t the presenter (my 10 minutes), I often found myself daydreaming, doodling, or staring out the large window.  I had no real interest in other people’s reports nor did they have any  real interest in mine... but our management believed that we needed this weekly meeting in order to build teamwork and learn from each other’s wins and loses (and perhaps try to create a bit of competitive spirit among us).

It was during one of these meetings that I had a breakthrough moment... an epiphany as it was.

I was there sitting in a meeting with our regular 15 participants. As I scanned around the room, I began calculating the per-hour rate of everyone in attendance... based on what salary I imagined them to have.

A work year typically has about 2,000 hours (50 weeks at 40 hours per week). Therefore if someone is being paid $60,000 per year, their hourly wage is $30 per hour... simple enough.

As I went around the room I added together what I thought was each person’s annual salary, multiplied by 1.3 to cover the cost of taxes and benefits, and divided the total by 2,000.

After some basic math, it suddenly occurred to me that this meeting was costing the company about $1,200 per hour or roughly $3,600 for the 3 hours we were all suppose to be there.

Now you might say that $3,600 isn’t a whole lot of money at a big company... but realize that $3,600 is only the starting point...

Now we need to figure that those 15 people represented 45 hours of actual productivity... things that actually make the company profits...

A good rule of thumb is that each $1 spent in a salesperson should bring the company back about $5 in profitability (20% cost of sales).

Therefore our meeting now has a cost to the company of $18,000 in lost profitability as well as $3,600 of actual cost for a total of $21,600 for each 3 hour meeting.

Breaking this cost down to a per minute basis... equals $120 per minute...

So let’s look at a few details of the meeting itself...

  • The meeting started 12 minutes late: 
    12 minutes - Cost - $1,440
  • First few minutes talking about the football game on Sunday:
    5 minutes - Cost = $600
  • The projector wasn’t set up in advance so everyone waited 9 minutes while the projector was connected to the laptop computer that had to be booted up:   
    9 minutes - Cost = $1,080
  • Two people argued a fine point of detail while the others sat around twiddling their collective thumbs:     
    15 minutes - Cost = $1,800
  • Time spent on topics that only pertain to the particular salesperson plus perhaps the sales managers:   
    100 minutes - Cost = $12,000
  • Time spent on subjects that have no direct outcomes or deliverables:                          
    60 minutes - Cost = $7,200

Our meeting cost the company thousands of dollars but what exactly did the company get for their money?... more productivity?... more sales?

Typically the larger the meeting... the less efficient the meeting becomes... the more money and resources are wasted.

Now I’m not advocating the end of all meetings... meetings are an effective way to communicate among a group of people and it certainly beats e-mail ping pong.

As with everything in business... we need to consider our return on investment (ROI)... on our time and money.

Thinking of meetings as an investment rather than an obligation, a savvy management team can maximize their resources and minimize the waste.

Meetings are indeed necessary in many situations including disseminating important information, problem solving, brain-storming, collaborating, and debate.

Here are the essentials of an effectively run meeting: 

  • Any scheduled meeting must have a well-defined written objective and a clear purpose and with specified outcomes.
  • Only invite those people necessary to complete the meeting’s objective. If some people are needed for only a part of a meeting (for example to give a report)... then they should only attend that part in which they are needed.
  • Always have a written agenda with a specific time allocation for each agenda item. The meeting should have a beginning time and an ending time and should begin and end promptly.
  • Assign one person to act as time keeper making sure that strict adherence to the agenda’s time table. Organize intermission breaks at specific times for longer meetings, but restart the meeting promptly.
  • Make sure to send the written agenda to all participants prior to the meeting so they can properly prepare bringing all of the needed materials with them and be prepared to discuss action items rather than waste everyone’s time bringing everyone up-to-speed with background information. Have people comment on the agenda before the meeting.
  • No participants should be engaged in any other activity other than the meeting... this means no texting, no checking e-mail, no internet surfing.
  • The moderator should limit one-on-one dialog to less than one minute and encourage them to continue the conversation after the meeting as not to waste other participants’ time.
  • The meeting moderator should be held responsible for making sure that the room and the necessary equipment is set-up prior to the meeting’s start.
  • The moderator is solely responsible for making sure the topic stays on course and isn’t "hijacked" to another topic of discussion.
  • The moderator should assign one person the task of taking detailed notes as to the what, who, when of each action item discussed and agreed upon. These notes should be distributed to each meeting participant within an hour of the meetings conclusion for follow-up.

Many times it is far more effective to have multiple shorter meetings with fewer people rather than one big long meeting with more people. In this way, only the people who are necessary are there... instead of a multitude of people waiting patiently for their part of the agenda to come up.

Meetings aren’t going away anytime soon... but with the right planning and focus they don’t need to be the big waste of time that so many of them have become.

I’ve actually never heard of anyone actually dying from attending a meeting... they only wished that they were dead...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we believe our customers’ time is valuable and shouldn’t be wasted...  


Jim Kalb

Email - jimk@optifuse.com
Website - www.optifuse.com

Blog - www.optifuse.blogspot.com
Twitter - @OptiFuse

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