Meetings, what are you missing?

This morning I caught up with one of the project managers I previously mentored. We worked together at Capital One Bank in the UK on a £100m transformation programme.

As these conversations usually pan out, we eventually got around to making comparisons to his new organisation compared to those good old days at the Bank and our old programme (and projects).

His biggest bugbear, meetings. Surprising considering the majority of a project manager’s role is involved in managing communications and relationships.

He appeared to be driven crazy by the overuse of meetings. Many were totally unnecessary, all too often he attended meetings with little or no interest in the objectives of the meeting but was obliged to attend.

He had calculated that approximately two thirds of his working week was consumed by meetings.

From what he described there was an over reliance on meetings as the means to communicate across projects. Many of those attending these meetings had no interest in the meeting outcome or felt that their time would be better spent working on deliverables.

Obviously some of these meetings were very necessary. But there needs to be balance, a line drawn between too many and not enough.

All too frequently meetings are considered just “part and parcel” of the daily approach to business. To some leaders they are viewed as the only way of communicating and gaining input.

Rarely are meetings subjected to condemnation. But serious consideration needs to be made on whom should attend, especially in terms of effective contributions and outcomes. These attendees need to carefully selected and be focussed on the outcomes of the meeting.

After all meetings are expensive! Not only in time and therefore, money, but also in lost productivity and diminishing impact on morale. For now let us ignore the logistics costs, such as the cost of the room, equipment and refreshments.

Just take a look at one of your meetings. Calculate the number of attendees multiplied by the whatever portion of the average day rate of the attendees and see what you end up with in terms of a one off cost. You will be surprised, especially when taking the view across the duration of your project or programme.

For example: On our old programme, every person working across the sixty projects had to attend a weekly programme meeting. Often this would encompass an early start and attendees would be enticed by breakfast snacks and decent coffee. But having two hundred attendees was a considerable expense. Let us assume that one hour of a person’s time costs £50, multiply this by the number of people attending and this equates to a meeting cost of £10,000. A simplistic example that ignores any preparation and travel time required on the part of the attendees or any preparation and administration costs by the organisers. During the key stages of the programme (around 9 months of the 18 month duration) these meetings were being held weekly. So this equated to approximately £500,000 out of the overall programme budget.

Unnecessary meeting attendance is so prevalent. Leaders need to realise that unfocused meetings can kill productive time, sap team motivation and screw resource utilisation.

So meetings need to be managed effectively before they even start. At the very minimum ensure 1) attendees are carefully selected, and 2) agendas are prepared and issued in time to allow attendees to make informed choice on whether or not to attend.

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