Unexpectedly Intriguing!
February 28, 2012
Meeting Room - Source: NASA

At some point during your office-based career, you will be required to run a meeting. And when that happens, it won't just be a large quantity of your time that will get wasted - it will also be the time of all those who attend your meeting.

The Portland Business Journal reports:

A new nationwide survey finds that "runaway" meetings are the biggest time-waster in the workplace. More than 27 percent of workers polled said meetings are the largest culprit for inefficiency and lack of productivity.

The survey was developed by Office Team, a staffing service specializing in skilled administrative professionals. With responses from 613 men and women, all 18 years or older, the findings are part of the "Office Team Career Challenge," a project to help administrative professionals advance their careers.

With today's lean staffing levels, there is increasing pressure for employees to manage their time effectively.

Yet, many employers actually sabotage time management with runaway meetings and interruptions. Industry Week calls meetings "the Great White Collar Crime," estimating they waste $37 billion a year.

So how can you, as someone who will be running a meeting, avoid becoming a white collar criminal?

Fortunately, Dolan Media's David Baugher has developed a list of things that meeting planners can do to avoid wasting too much of the collective time of the people who might attend the meeting, which we've excerpted below (emphasis ours). Although developed for lawyers, whose time might be otherwise used to make money at the rate of $250 per hour or more, the lessons might well be applied for other would-be meeting managers....

1. Undershoot the time.

It seems a no-brainer to schedule a meeting with enough time to ensure everything is covered. Yet Tom Polcyn, a partner at Thompson Coburn in St. Louis and chair of the firm's intellectual property group, says conventional wisdom is sometimes a bust. Instead, try scheduling a little less time than needed to encourage participants to cut to the chase. You can always schedule a follow-up meeting if something truly important is skipped. "Meetings have a way of filling up every last minute of the scheduled time, kind of like the way gas expands to fill a container," Polcyn says. "More often than not, I'm finding that if I would have normally scheduled an hour for this and instead we give 30 minutes a try, it's turning out to be enough time. It's like found time."

2. Don't do back-to-back meetings.

It's easy to stack and pack meetings one after another. But meetings are more productive if you schedule a few minutes between them to collect your thoughts, Polcyn says. "I've found this to be extremely helpful, because maybe I'll get out of an hourlong meeting and we'll all agree on certain action items — but if I go straight from that meeting into another one, I sometimes can forget what we all decided on or I end up at the end of the day with a mess of notes."

3. Ask the key question.

Too many meetings can be as bad as too few. Not every situation calls for a full-scale get-together. Legal management consultant Joan Newman, of St. Louis-based Joan Newman & Associates, says the first question to ask is obvious. "The first tip is deciding whether you need to have the meeting at all," says Newman, whose company is associated with national consultant Altman Weil. "Is there a way to accomplish what you want to accomplish without a meeting, whether it's a phone call, conference call, emails? Make sure you really need this meeting."

4. Be punctual.

Meetings are scheduled at a specific time for a reason. Don't dawdle when getting one under way just because a few stragglers haven't yet wandered in or participants are lingering in conversation over yesterday's softball game. "If you have a meeting, start on time and indicate how long the meeting is going to be," Newman says. "End on time. Nobody wants to sit there and have their time wasted because it doesn't start until five minutes late and doesn't end on time."

5. Don't settle in.

If a meeting can be brief, ensure that it is. Brent D. Green, a collections, commercial and bankruptcy attorney with Evans & Green in Springfield, says a simple lack of chairs at an impromptu gathering can have a positive effect on meeting length. "I had a meeting in my file room the other day on filing, and everybody stood up," he says. "It was a short meeting."

6. Don't let participants ramble.

Dan O'Toole, head of the litigation practice group at Armstrong Teasdale in St. Louis, says he gives meeting attendees a specific timeframe in which to complete their presentations. In a creative twist, he acquired a gong that sits next to the presenter. It's waiting to be struck "The Gong Show"-style if the speaker exceeds his or her allotted time. "I've never had to use it, but it is such a visual reminder to people of the need to stay on topic," O'Toole says. "It works wonders because nobody wants to be the first person to get the gong for having gone over."

7. Get out of your office.

For an important one-on-one meeting, playing host isn't always the best idea. "If it's a meeting with subordinates, you go to their office instead of having them come to you," Green says. "If you're in their office, when the meeting is over, you can just leave. It's hard to get a subordinate to leave if you have them come to your office."

8. Distribute materials ahead of time.

Handing out lengthy items at a meeting causes delays as participants read the handouts on the fly. Newman says a good organizer disseminates information before the day of the confab. "You don't want to be sitting there at the meeting educating them as to what this case is about," she says. "When you have them read things while at the meeting, they can't make an informed judgment."

9. Have an agenda.

Don't just wing it. Efficient meetings aren't organic. They are planned, with participants aware of when they will speak and what they will talk about. "I've been to so many meetings where people just say, ‘Hey, Bob why don't you tell us what's going on with that project?' and Bob has a big chunk of sandwich in his mouth and doesn't even know he was going to be called on," O'Toole says. "He just fumbles through it."

10. Keep the guest roster short.

An all-hands-on-deck approach to every meeting wastes time for both the unnecessary participants and the relevant personnel in the room. Think about who really ought to come to the meeting. "I've found that the more people you have at a meeting, the less tends to get done," Polcyn says. Try to make sure the people you invite to a meeting are the people who need to be there.

All we can say is "Amen!"

Previously on Political Calculations

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