According to conference calling company Powwownow, the cost of a typical business meeting is close to £16,000 per head each year(1). This, it says, means that a typical SME could be spending over £600,000 annually. For larger companies, the figures are even scarier. The Harvard Business Review found that, in the USA, a single weekly executive meeting took up 300,000 hours each year, once you’ve factored in the ‘knock-on’ effect all the work by all the people preparing input for the session.
Given the opportunity, wouldn’t most of us vote for fewer meetings? It’s easy to look at meetings as things that stop you doing your job, stop you being as productive as you’d like to be, occupy far too much of your working – and waking – day, and generally get in the way. Much like answering email.
And yet… Meetings have been integral to business for as long as anyone can remember Why would that be? Simply: they’re about – or should be about - sharing information, points of view, expertise and experience – the keys to business success. That sharing allows necessary actions to be determined, and goals and objectives to be set. Perhaps most importantly, meetings bring minds together to solve problems.
So: why do we resent them so much? (And why do we despise people who appear to us to be professional meeting-goers?) For the most part, it’s because we’ve been to so many bad ones. You know the ones. No agenda and no clear objective, for a start. Then, there are the people who show up late. Not only is that rude, it’s incredibly wasteful. If you have 20 people in a room, and the 21st person delays the start of the meeting by 10 minutes, that’s 200 man/minutes wasted – over three hours in total.
Lack of preparation
And speaking of wasteful: what about the attendees who show up and haven’t actually prepared what they were supposed to? Or that you discover that the person who has most to contribute to the meeting wasn’t actually invited? Or the length of time spent in setting up equipment? Or what about the ‘grand standing’, the ‘being impressive in front of the boss’ and the petty political infighting?
Then, there’s the single biggest bug-bear for most people: with no agenda, no clear objective, no preparation and no respect for others’ time – is it any surprise that meetings over-run? Which, inevitably, means another meeting gets scheduled to achieve what this meeting set out to achieve. And that one will probably over-run too…
Let’s be clear. There’s not much technology can do to make attendees show up on time, or stop them grandstanding. What there is, though, is a technology solution that can help a meeting be more productive. If meetings are fundamentally about sharing information, that’s now a whole lot easier than it used to be. If meetings are supposed to be about collaboration – working together freely and seamlessly, rather than watching someone who has tried to cram the entire contents of the Oxford English Dictionary onto a single PowerPoint slide – then there’s technology available to facilitate that too.
Yes, meetings can be less of a waste of time. They can actually achieve something. And if you don’t feel like a meeting was a waste of your time, and feel that you actually achieved something – wouldn’t that transform how you felt about meetings?