What is Waste?
Any meeting can be a waste of time, but even necessary, vital meetings often include elements of waste. Waste is simply chargeable time that does not further any business goal. It is accompanied by an uncomfortable sense that something more useful needs to be done: people are aware of waste in real time. The real cost appears later when the project time charges are accumulated and cost overruns occur. The waste can only be a matter of a few meetings, but multiplied by all the meeting participants over all the meetings for a particular project, and the costs can be huge.
The Multiplier Effect
Any time wasted during a meeting impacts some or all of the participants. But each participant is (either formally or informally) charging time to the project that the meeting is targeting. If an individual in the meeting has to respond to a hot item and divert from the meeting, only that person’s time is lost. But if the host is late, handles the agenda poorly, or otherwise wastes meeting time, that lost time is recorded by all the participants. In a meeting, it’s all about the team. Virtual meetings are even more prone to this multiplier effect — because late hosting, poor audio quality, or other factors which I consider in depth in subsequent articles of this series — yet we usually consider them as unavoidable costs of doing business. They are, however, quite avoidable and don’t require a massive exertion of effort to expel from your meetings and your bottom line.
Where Does the Time Go?
Time, like water seeking it’s own level, will flow whether you want it to or not. Meeting participants are either staring at their computer screens because of the host’s presentation materials, or because they are responding to instant messages or looking at a different project’s spreadsheet. Their attention will flow to the items of highest urgency. If a meeting presentation is not useful, handled poorly, involving the wrong audience, or superimposed on top of a crisis, the participant’s attention will flow elsewhere. But that time is still accrued to the meeting’s project. Simple steps can minimize that loss of time and focus appropriate time on the project or issue at hand. And these steps cost very little time of their own to implement.
Let’s look at the various ways time is lost, track back the source, and set action steps. Just like any good root cause analysis, we need to find what is happening and then correct the problem. Let’s begin at the beginning of a meeting: starting on time.