The Real Cost of Meetings and How to Make Them Worth The Investing

Understand the financial investment behind every meeting and ensure a good return on investment when spending company time

The Real Cost of Meetings and How to Make Them Worth The Investing

When it comes to spending money, companies will almost always have very specific rules and plans in place to ensure that capital is spent only to drive their goals and company mission. Anything that falls outside of that or that is deemed low value will most often never be approved in the first place.

On the other hand, how we spend time doesn’t often go through the same level of scrutiny. Treating time as the most valuable resource is key to ensuring that it is invested with the same care and strategic planning equal to how a company would spend capital.

Of course, we can leverage time management tools and find other ways to enhance productivity in the workplace. But there is one area that is often a clear culprit of wasted time; meetings.

Meetings could be costing your company a very significant amount. And, as technology enables easier and more flexible solutions to get people together, the number of meetings is steadily increasing. According to a study done by Bain & Company, organizations spend about 15% of their collective time in meetings.

It goes without saying that meetings are essential for collaboration, exchanging information, and building great relationships at work. But the unfortunate truth is that most of the time spent in meetings is wasted time.

A survey by the Harvard Business Review in 2017 shows that out of 182 senior managers in a variety of different industries, a huge 71% said that meetings are unproductive and inefficient, and 65% agreed that meetings kept them from being able to actually do their jobs.

Ok, so we know that a huge percentage of meetings are wasteful. But just how much damage are they really doing? With the average executive spending an average of 23 hours a week in meetings, assuming the salary is around the $200,000 average, the investment for just that one single executive over the span of a working year totals $114, 816.

Crunching The Numbers

Let’s look at an example using a theoretical small tech startup with 50 employees, and calculate the monthly financial investment of the meetings they might have.

  • Daily 15 minute catch-ups for all employees = $18,260
  • Weekly 1 hr sales / account update assuming 12 attendees with an average salary of $110K = $3,696
  • Weekly 90-minute Leadership meeting with 10 attendees with an average salary of $150K = $6,300
  • Bi-weekly 1 hour Product/ design meeting with 8 attendees with an average salary of 100K = $4,480
  • Fortnightly development showcase 1 hour for all employees = $7,000

These 5 meetings would barely begin to scratch the surface of the reality of the number of meetings that would take place, but even so, the financial investment comes in at just under $40,000.

Already we can see the significance of that investment. And when you add in the ad-hoc meetings that are planned last minute, the 1-on-1 fortnightly catch-up with the manager, and the bigger quarterly planning meetings, that number easily doubles or triples.

This meeting cost calculator is a great tool to get a clear understanding of the financial impact a meeting can have.

The investment isn’t just purely in the hours spent in meetings though, a large amount of time is necessary for planning for those meetings too. Pulling together sales reports, writing meeting agendas, booking rooms, inviting attendees, organizing catering for longer meetings, the list goes on.

How To Ensure a Valuable Return on Investment

Meetings are inevitable. We can’t just stop having meetings full stop and expect to grow and maintain innovative and successful companies. Meetings provide opportunities for collaboration, for sharing knowledge and ideas, for bringing people together, and creating bonds that foster great company culture. There are huge benefits to having meetings. But, those benefits only come out of effective meetings.

Carefully consider who to put on the invite list

The first thing to consider is the list of attendees. When planning a meeting, take a hard look at who really needs to be there. Who will add real value? Who will need to be a part of this decision? Who will benefit from knowing the information that will be shared?

Be very critical in this step. Invite only the people directly impacted by the meeting agenda, those who are required to make a decision, and the people who will be doing the work.

Have a clear goal

If you’re not sure what the meeting is trying to achieve, should it really be going ahead? Having a clear and meaningful goal is essential to ensuring a meeting is a valuable way to spend company time.

Carefully consider whether a real-time conversation is necessary in order to reach that goal. Could the same outcome be achieved with an email instead?

If you’re not contributing, leave

One of Elon Musk’s 6 rules for productivity is that if you are not contributing to a meeting, you should walk out or drop off the call so as not to waste your time and that of others. It might seem rude, or a bold move to make. But it simply makes sense, and common sense should always come out above the need to be polite. Rather, it should be interpreted as a sign of respect for the company’s time, and the time of the attendees.

Keep meetings short

If meetings are well planned, and the list of attendees is kept the essential people, there’s no reason for meetings to last hours. The shorter the better when it comes to effective meetings. That way action items can be delegated and those who take them on will be able to find the time to actually do the work rather than be sitting in more meetings.

Research tells us that after 45 minutes, more than 35% of people will no longer be engaged and focused. When it comes to meetings, the shorter the better.

Appoint a meeting facilitator

It’s important that one person manages the flow and structure of a meeting. They can ensure that the meeting stays on track in terms of the agenda. They make sure that the meeting starts and ends on time. And most importantly they will record the outcomes and follow up on the action items identified within the meeting.

A good meeting facilitator will help the meeting achieve more in less time.

Avoid status update meetings

If your intentions for the meeting is simply to share or discuss the progress of a certain piece of work or to share a weekly report, consider using a different approach. The outcome for this type of meeting could easily be achieved using project management tools or dashboards that provide the team transparency over that information.

This type of meeting is also often the most draining. There are very little discussion and collaboration, attendees are simply being fed information the whole time. This can lead to lower productivity after the meeting has finished and attendees are fatigued.

Ensure there is an actionable outcome

How can a meeting be deemed a success without an outcome? The value of a meeting is directly related to the actions that will follow it. It’s important to make actionable outcomes clear and communicate who will take ownership of those actions.

The meeting facilitator should also follow up after the meeting with a communication to all attendees outlining the meeting outcome and the actionable items.

Key takeaways

Meetings are expensive. Always consider whether a meeting is worth the financial investment. Being aware of that financial investment is the first step to start making positive changes that will drive meeting effectiveness.

When it comes to meetings; less is more, always. Make them count by having the best people in the room to achieve the intended outcome. And, don’t forget to follow up with some actionable outcomes.

Meetings are a great tool for innovation and collaboration when they are productive and efficient.