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Wednesday, Jul. 25, 2007 at 8:38 am

The Myth of The One Hour Meeting

By Jeffrey Eisenberg
July 25th, 2007

We’re not big fans of meetings and neither is Jason of 37 Signals his post has received tons of comments on the the one hour meeting:

It’s no mystery that we’re meeting averse, but here’s another reason why we think meetings are toxic: There’s no such thing as the one-hour meeting.

If you’re going to schedule a meeting that lasts one hour and invite 10 people to attend then it’s a ten-hour meeting, not a one-hour meeting. You are trading 10 hours of productivity for one hour of meeting time. And it’s probably more like 15 hours since there are mental switching costs associated with stopping what you’re doing, going somewhere else to do something else, and then resuming what you were doing before.

Is it ever OK to trade 10-15 hours of productivity for one hour of meeting? Sometimes, sure, but it’s a heavy cost. Meetings are expensive when you think about the opportunity cost. On a pure cost basis, meetings can quickly become liabilities, not assets. So when you schedule that one-hour meeting for 10 people think about the 10-15 hours lost. Is it still worth it?

I’m sure a few of our readers also read the Signal vs. Noise blog but I wanted to ask those who don’t what they think. One of our friends likes doing 15 minute-and-under stand-up meetings. Is that better? Is it still worth having them? How do you keep meetings from eating up time, or do you? Do you have any suggestions about maximizing value and minimizing time of meetings?

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Comments (11)

  1. Meetings are highly overrated. Especially those BIG meetings. Someone should bring out the calculator. It’s costing the company a lot to have those huge and inefficient meetings. The truth is that some people do not know any other mode of working than sitting in meetings. Just like some people are obsessed with calling. Or e-mailing. Or chatting. My reasoning: use ALL the methods of communication that are at your disposal. Also, why not just talk to people throughout the day and make more decisions in smaller groups . Do not book long meetings. Book short meetings and force yourself to be efficient. It’s my understanding that most teams at Google consist of no more than 3-5 people. Why not keep meetings as small? The times when you need those HUGE meetings where each person is needed for a fraction of the time — are few.

  2. There is a calculator! If it’s still around, it’s called Meeting Miser, and it’s awesome. I used to use it when I was a Project Manager. As each attendee enters the meeting, they type their annual salary into a masked entry, and when everyone is ready, you hit the ‘calculate’ button, and it does a running tally of how much the meeting costs in real time.

    It’s fun to watch the CXOs wince ;)

  3. I can’t find the calculator. Could you please try and find the link?

  4. Meetings are a big time wasters and we know Time is everything. It is disgusting how many people don’t consider this!

  5. FOR CONSIDERATION: Having taught countless classes/seminars all over the world on time management and effective leadership skills, here are a few of my personal rules of thumb regarding meetings:

    ————————-
    Never have more than one meeting a day. COROLLARY: Never spend more time in internal meetings on any given day than you are willing to spend the next day doing nothing but talking to real CUSTOMERS (not just “users”– but that’s a DIFFERENT comment).
    ————————-
    Schedule no more than 45 minutes for ANY meeting. Allow (and expect) people to excuse themselves as they see fit after that time.
    ————————-
    Remove chairs from the conference room. Don’t let people get too comfortable, and for Pete’s sake don’t encourage them by bringing DOUGHNUTS!
    ————————-
    Recognize that there are 3 different types of meetings: a) Informational, b)Celebratory and c) Decision-Making. Confuse this context and ensure confusion and frustration.
    ————————-
    Have a very SPECIFIC objective for each and every meeting and never have more than 3 things on the agenda for any specific meeting. Never give anyone more than 3 action items coming out of a single meeting.
    ————————-
    If you need a PowerPoint to get your point across, just send the PowerPoint. Most of us can read.

    If an issue is too complex for just a PowerPoint, write it up as a document. Better for one person to spend twice the time to develop a well-articulated proposal (remember what your English teacher said? “If you can’t write it down clearly, then you’re not THINKING clearly”..), than to waste the time of everyone else involved.
    ————————-
    If it’s 2-3 people, it’s a “discussion”– have plenty of those. Organizational theory teaches that any group of over 5 is almost unmanageable because of the multiple permutations and combinations of the vested interests of all involved.
    ————————-
    Understand RID roles for every attendee:

    R=RESPONSIBLE- party “responsible” for the specific activity tied to the objective/outcome of the meeting.

    I=INVOLVED- not just “INTERESTED,” but those who are directly affected and/or need to provide specific input.

    D=DECISION-MAKING- those who will ultimately have to make a specific decision based on the meeting.

    Everyone who does not play one of these roles can “stay home”…
    ————————-
    Don’t insist or expect EVERYONE in attendance to actively participate. Don’t create a culture where people feel that they MUST comment continually just to prove they are “smart,” or “engaged” or “part of the team.”

    ****************************

    Those of us who thrive in decentralized work environments (at one point, 26 locations in virtually every time zone) have learned that most seemingly “necessary” meetings truly are NOT. Use technology to monitor and collaborate, foster trust and individual accountability and focus on smaller, manageable discrete tasks to cut down on time wasted in meetings.

  6. [...] one of our daily editorial non-meetings — we like to keep it brisk — Bryan and I were pondering one of our favorite [...]

  7. I just read a new article on PayScale’s Meeting Miser on Venturebeat. You enter your location and the job title of all the meeting’s participants. Based on the median salary for those job titles in your location, Meeting Miser calculates how much the meeting costs. This really helps you evaluate opportunity cost. http://www.payscale.com/meeting-miser

  8. Meeting time really depends on who they’re with. However, here are a few of points that I find help keep things to the point:
    1. Have a clear agenda.
    2. Don’t include anything trivial or anything that can easily be discussed on the phone.
    3. Try to anticipate questions that are going to be asked and have a concise answer to each.
    4. State clearly at the start that you have another meeting to attend to straight afterwards! This one is probably the most useful.

  9. I agree with you for the most part. However, meetings can be effective when each attendee contributes towards whats on the agenda. For example, brainstorming sessions could be great for generating new ideas and advertisng companies conduct such meetings all teh time.

    However meetings are a waste of time when the upper management gathers up all the employees and gives the same old tired speech everytime which has no impact on the employees’ productivity whatsoever.

  10. I know what Lear/Learning Centre is trying to say, but I think he/she is missing the point. Every type of meeting CAN have its proper place– though not necessarily so. Different meetings have different objectives, and actually very few of them really benefit from having free-flowing, “brainstorming”-type conversations.

    Meetings with a lot of self-serving “individual” contributors” are little or no better than “upper management” mandated meetings. (BTW, what’s up with the “Us vs. Them” attitude?)

    To expand on one of my earlier points, the THREE primary meeting types can be expanded to:

    * INFORMATIONAL
    * DECISION-MAKING (Accountability and Problem-Solving)
    * CELEBRATORY (Celebration and Motivational)

    • INFORMATIONAL—The Leader (whether executive or receptionist- doesn’t matter) needs to convey a chunk of info to a group. If there are questions, ask them. Otherwise, we don’t need your “contribution.”
    • ACCOUNTABILITY—again, not really “sharing time.” If there are issues preventing the fulfillment of assignments that involve multiple individuals, take it offline and do that.
    • PROBLEM-SOLVING—Get a solid agenda w/ clear objectives, a good leader who knows how to “manage” a group discussion (again, no one said it has to or even should be an executive), and have at it. Pick your favorite methodology (“brainstorming,” deBono “6 hats/shoes,” lateral thinking,, etc,), and stick to the agenda and clock. Group participation not only welcome but necessary. Without it, just cancel the meeting and stop wasting time.
    • MOTIVATIONAL—Rally the troops. Can be held at any level. May or may not involve group participation. If not, be careful it doesn’t turn vapid and self-congratulatory. A motivational meeting is about what will motivate the group, not about what the leader just wants an excuse to say.
    • CELEBRATION—Lay off the speeches all together. Make it clear what it is you are celebrating as a group, and just party!

    Confusing these meeting types is the source of a lot of “meeting fatigue.” Turning and information meeting into a problem-solving meeting leaves everyone confused. Treating a problem-solving meeting as a motivational opportunity is a transparent attempt to “sugar coat” a situation and demotivating to the team. Focusing on “celebration” during an accountability meeting downplays the organizational and operational deficiencies for which an accountability meeting is designed.

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Jeffrey Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark. You can friend him on Facebook.

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