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“Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”

Meetings are an essential part of business life. Given the amount of organizational resources in play when a meeting is convened, the management of that process is critical to achieving any level of organizational outcomes. Meetings dominate the way business is conducted. It is no secret that the current business climate has generated a multitude of reasons for bringing people together to resolve an organizational issue, however many of those reasons may not have a valid anchor and occur simply because we don’t know what else to do.
Consider that meetings use two of the organization’s most important resources, it’s people and it’s time, in an on going effort to (1) give information, (2) gather information and/or (3) make a decision about something of importance to the organization. So, like any tool, a meeting must be properly used to achieve the best result. Those necessary outcomes are tied to how well a meeting is managed. The effectiveness of the tool is dependent on the skill of the person convening the meeting and whether it is an appropriate use given the task. This may seen like an incidental statement, but approximately 11 million meetings occur in the U.S. each and every day. Most professionals average about 60 meetings per month or close to 15 meetings a week. A UCLA study found that senior executives spend about 53 percent of their time in meetings at a cost of $320 dollars an hour. According to the article Meetings in America: A study of trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel, teleconferencing, and their impact on productivity, over 50 percent of meeting time is wasted. If we assume that each of those 60 monthly meetings lasts about an hour, then as professionals, we lose about 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings, or approximately four work days. So, if a five person senior management team is in a meeting for half of 40 hours (recent changes suggest that this is an underestimated guess), that’s 20 hours at $320 or $6,400 per person each week in a meeting. In 50 weeks, that’s $320,000 per person a year given whatever variables you plug into the equation. Needless to say, a lot of money (another organizational resource) is spent and wasted on the use of meetings. It would be hard to find much disagreement among meeting attendees that meetings, in general, could be a lot more productive.
If the primary focus of building your business is the successful management of organizational resources, then anyone duly authorized with the power to call a meeting has to be certain that they are making effective use of the meeting. The ascension to management is rarely a testament to a person’s ability to effectively manage a meeting. In fact, most professionals have had no real training in pulling together and managing an effective meeting and rarely take advantage of the resources (training opportunities) that would help alleviate this skill deficiency. If we all recognized the enormous impact that meetings have on the organization and our careers, we’d probably be a lot more considerate of how we use that resource. There is a lot that can be done to improve meetings:
Routine meetings become little more than social gatherings where people come together to think of something to talk about. If there’s no reason to meet that week, then cancel the meeting.
Impromptu meetings are great for writing comedy sketches, but do little more than disrupt work flow and scheduling. Typically, the only decision being made at an impromptu meeting is scheduling time for another meeting.
Attendance needs managing since absences cause delays and result in meaningless decisions. Be sure that those asked to attend are the same ones who need to attend.
Define the purpose so that attendees are clear as to why they are gathering and its relevant reason.
Start and end on time please!
Meetings are an unavoidable fact of everyday business life and should be approached with the same cautious regard for appropriate use and management.

© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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