While traipsing through the halls of a local high tech startup, I chanced across this laminated set of rules in the cafeteria. Why the cafeteria? Because that's a high traffic area and it's important that everyone get the message: meetings cost time and money, so think about what you're doing! The first rule of Meet Club is to ask this question: Do we really need to meet?
Running a good meeting is not simply about controlling the tempo and topic of the meeting, but also about managing the different personalities in attendance. In a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, there was an article covering this topic entitled Meet the Meeting Killers, in which they describe four types of co-workers who frequently disrupt meetings: the Jokester, the Dominator, the Naysayer and the Rambler. For each, the post offers a behavioral description and suggestions on how to neutralize or convert them into supporters.
However I think they missed a couple others which I've often encountered: the Lurker, who's relatively harmless, and the Passive-Aggressive Attacker, who's dangerous and incredibly annoying. So how do you deal with these and why bother?
More importantly, how does your boss know? And what about your clients/members/stakeholders - how do they know?
Research shows that meeting consumes more time than any other business practice: people meet all the time. And what are they getting for this investment? Research also shows that by and large, people find many meetings a waste of time - so obviously they're not getting much out of these meetings that they recognize as valuable.
This ridiculous state of affairs shows no signs of shifting, despite very clear, readily available, and consistent information about how to make meetings work. We KNOW that meetings are important to getting work done and moving projects forward, because there isn't any way to more effectively get the buy in from a group of people. We KNOW that meetings are more enjoyable, more productive, and get higher ratings from everyone involved when they have an agenda, stay focused, and have documented results.
We KNOW all of this, but we rarely put these techniques into practice. Most business meetings today have no clear work product. Some people spend up to 80% of their work time in meetings, the majority of which they end up with nothing to show for it: absolutely nothing they can point to, revisit, or pass on to a colleague. Forgettable, at best.
Admittedly, some people don't have any experience or training in basic meeting skills. For everyone else, though, what's the problem? Why is this not only accepted, but the norm?
Here at Lucid Meetings, we talk a lot about how to do online, virtual meetings well. If you've read any of our blog posts, you know our perspective: prepare an agenda in advance, send the agenda and meeting materials to attendees so they know what they're getting into, think about who you're inviting and know who's actually coming, record the important stuff from the meeting, send a followup, and so on. We believe that well run meetings will be shorter, more effective, and even - dare I say it - enjoyable.
But "Easy" Triumphs
I know what you're thinking - yeah, he's right, but I don't always want to do that much work. Can't meetings just be easy? I'm glad you asked! Because this is exactly why we started Lucid Meetings - to make great meetings the most natural, easy thing for you, our customers, to do. Let's talk about how easy it is to have a great Lucid Meeting.
This series started with a simple discussion of how to compare the costs of meeting software products. We started there because when people approach us about meeting costs, that's usually what they mean. In the second article, we looked at the more important and much larger costs of a meeting in terms of time spent. If you played with the total meeting costs calculator, you saw that focusing on having better meetings and achieving the resulting productivity gains more effectively manages costs. With the cost of people's time factored in, the software costs become a rounding error.
In our third post, we added yet another dimension - measuring the meeting value. We frame value in terms of how well a meeting moves the group closer to their goal, and use the team's meeting evaluation to assign each meeting a monetary value. With this final calculator, you can see how a well designed meeting makes money and a poor one sucks the profits out your eyeballs.
Our discussion of cost and value has become progressively more complicated, more nuanced and more meaningful. Which brings us to the final installment: Gut Checks.
If you hold meetings as part of your business, those meetings have costs. You pay for virtual meeting software, you pay for the time your employees spend in meetings, and if the meetings suck, you pay with whittled off splinters of soul.
We looked at the software costs and organizational costs associated with meetings in the previous posts for this series. We even put together some handy calculators so you can swag the costs as they apply to your world. I would love to claim that we're clever or unique here, but we're not. Many other meeting-focused professionals have calculators of their own, and some service providers even orient their whole product around making sure you can monitor these costs.
If you worry that you may be a dupe who pays way too much for meetings, then this isolated look at meeting costs can help you find ways to save money. If you're a hater - someone who believes that the devil invented meetings to terrorize the godly - then you can use a cost calculator as a powerful weapon in your crusade to burn meetings out of your organization.
If, on the other hand, you think meetings have their place and you can accept a reasonable amount of associated cost, you're unlikely to find a cost-only discussion compelling. Interesting, perhaps, but incomplete. Because when you meet, you meet for a reason. Your meetings make a difference; they are an essential part of how work gets done. For you, making sure you get the best value from your meetings matters more than micro-managing your meeting costs.
Last time we looked at the complicated world of comparing the software costs of meetings. Some people we talked with reacted with shock and awe - how ridiculous to spend that kind of money on meetings! But before we get too worked up about how to save all those nickles and dimes, let's look at where most organizations spend the real dollars. Today we're talking about how to calculate the cost of your meetings in people's time.
How to Calculate the Cost of People's Time
This time the math's easy cheesy. To see how much a meeting costs in people time, you measure the time spent by either their hourly cost (burdened rate) or their billable rate.
Lucid Meetings provides working teams with meeting software that improves their productivity and the outcome of their projects. At least that's the goal - but how to measure it?
We judge a working meeting's quality by four criteria; three more or less measurable and one big squishy subjective one. In this series, we'll share the research and tools we use to inform the development of Lucid Meetings, to ensure that we get the most from our own meetings, and to measure our results.
Each post, starting with today's discussion of software cost, will address one of these criteria:
- Part I - Software Costs
- Part II - People and Time Costs
- Part III - Measurable Value: Moving Work Forward
- Part IV - The Gut Check: Was it good for you?
One reminder: we're talking specifically about collaborative meetings, and not about ways to measure webinars or conferences. Those kinds of meetings have very different expenses and measures for success.
Many years ago, I met with Michael Harrington, a public speaking coach and trainer. He described his training approach as that of "taking a competitive sports view" to public speaking. His view was that you could train people with some very specific skills and thereby teach them to win the day, so to speak. For some reason, that competitive view of public speaking really worked well for me. The task of public speaking became something I really wanted to master, rather than something to be dreaded and endured.
I have a similar idea about meetings. When I was a young buck at Intel, we were trained in effective meeting practices because Intel recognized that 1) meetings weren't a diversion, but rather where management did real work, and 2) it was too critical to the company's success to waste people's time and energy on something that lacked structure and results-orientation. I don't know how many times I heard "don't tell me you went to this or that meeting, tell me the result!"
There are lots of articles out there on how to put together an agenda, many of which focus on proper agenda etiquette, including formatting, logistics, and the judicious use of inspirational quotes. If you're running formal board meetings or regular committee meetings, then it makes sense to spend some time learning about the Standard Order of Business from Robert's Rules and developing a good set of templates.
If, on the other hand, you're part of a team working to ship some sort of awesome in short order, you can look to the great undercover teams from pop-culture for a few simpler rules. Bonus: if you're a bit rusty on the references here, Mission Impossible is available on Netfilx streaming and The A-Team is on Hulu!