The Collateral Damage of a Meeting

Atlanta, Ga., January 25, 2007 -- Region IV Di...
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Meetings, much like 1-hour credit lab courses in colleges, carry a much higher price than their appointed time indicates.

We’ve been over this before:  A 15-minute meeting is more disruptive than a 3 hour one elaborated on the 15-minute meeting agenda:

The 15-Minute Meeting Agenda

  • 5 minutes travel time/dial-in time/waiting for people to realize their clock is out-of-sync
  • 5 minutes of greetings
  • 2 minutes of status
  • 3 minutes of disconnect beeps or leaving early for a restroom break

Collateral Damage

There’s more to it than that this.  There is also collateral damage.  Everyone assumes that calendar openings = free time, so you often end up with every hour filled with at least a half hour meeting.

Appointment Backlog

Half-hour meetings rarely run under on time.  In fact, the greeting, handshaking, and orientation portion of the meeting may take 10 to 15 minutes, unless you have an incredible facilitator for the meeting.  Therefore, if the subject matter was worth 30 minutes, the meeting will be closer to 45 minutes in length.  This expansion of appointment time is similar to the reason why your doctor’s appointment runs an hour behind.

Anticipation Frustration

With good fortune, your hourly half-hour meetings will only take 40-45 minutes, leaving you with free time in between.  In this space of time you will worry about being prepared for the next meeting, take care of things (like eating) that you’ve not been giving other time for, and sit in the frustration of not being able to start anything in the amount of time you have left.

Action Items

Effective meeting facilitation will draw out a to-do list of action items that are to be resolved outside of the scope of the meeting, often to prevent the delay in their resolution from holding up the meeting itself. In principle, these are effective tools. In practice, combined with fully booked schedules, they can be like spending 8am-5pm working on adding items to your personal to-do list–it just keeps getting bigger.

Compound Multitasking

With the backlog of to-do list items and meetings, people begin doing “other work” in their meetings. Therefore, as meetings themselves impact the productivity of other work, meetings become less productive and end up running longer to get the same amount of work done–a downward spiral of productivity destruction.

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