Unproductive Meetings? There should be an app for that.

“In this world nothing is certain except death and taxes” – Benjamin Franklin

Old Ben was pretty close, but he forgot one crucial element: meetings. We all attend them, we often loath them, we often wonder in hindsight if they were actually worth the time. I’m not trying to say that meetings can’t be useful, just that they often aren’t, at least in my experience. In fact the more time I spend around the boardroom table, the more I think that there must be a better way to manage meetings within the organization.

Why do we need to rethink meetings?

I can’t say for certain if this phenomenon is universal or simply ubiquitous across my own experience, but people tend to think of meetings as just another part of their job; few think of meetings in terms of their costs to either them personally or their organization, happily meandering through directionless meetings.

How do we need to rethink meetings?

Meetings, even internal meetings, aren’t free. There is always a cost associated with meeting. Why not build an app that could show participants what the true cost is? Here’s a rough outline:

  • Meetings could be created by the person setting the agenda.
  • Info can be attached to the invitation
  • Attendees would check in to the meeting when they accept the meeting
  • Their salaries are automatically drawn out of their enterprise employment records (but not divulged to others in the room)
  • The convener starts the meeting and projects a running tally of the cost of the meeting as it is being conducted kind of like a taxi meter
  • Next to the cost of the meeting is the deliverable cost (e.g. say the meeting is to decide how to allocate a 25k contract)
  • Each participants mobile device can concurrently display their own dollar tally as well as a percentage of the total meeting cost.
  • The app would also give each participant ongoing cumulative data on how much of their own salary they have eaten up in meetings.
  • This data could also be used by the organization as a catalyst for better information sharing (to circumvent or improve the culture of meetings)
  • All in all the app is designed to shift thinking around the costs of meetings and inform better decision-making when it comes to meetings.

What can we do to rethink meetings?

This app is just a sketch on a whiteboard, but if you are interested in helping me build it, let me know. I’d love to get this one out the door.

Oh an yes I know that it probably will never make money, may actually contradict the science of motivation, but I can think of no other more immediate way to show people that (for hypothetical example) spending 150k in salary dollars determining how to best allocate an under 25k contract may not make sense.

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Nicholas Charney

@Bill – I’m aware that cost calculators exist (although in hindsight I should’ve linked to one because everyone else seems to be) but I think the real value is in focusing people on the objectives and providing better asset management. e.g. we applied this many people for this many hours to this project, perhaps we need to take another look at that …

Bill Brantley

@Nicholas – Sorry. It appeared from your list of requirements that you were concentrating on the dollar cost of the actual meeting. So what you are saying is that you want a tool to calculate the estimated cost of attending the meeting and determining if that meeting is worth your time (in dollars)? Sounds like a variation on Earned Value Analysis.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Meeting rooms should have a jumbotron hanging down from the center of the ceiling with “player stats” – cost per player per hour, multiplied by time in meeting, penalties include talking too long, saying the same thing over and over…points scored for # of actionable items contributed or movement toward consensus and assignment of tasks…

Okay, so I am exaggerating, but there’s something to the idea of just having a big countdown timer along with a dollar figure next to it that rises as the meeting ensues.

Nicholas Charney

@Bill no, I originally had a quick animation that I narrated but had problems uploading it to you tube :(. There are a lot of elements, I was more interested in demonstrating in real time ut also in aggregate to inform better long term time management.

@Andrew agreed, we need more heads up displays to focus e team.

Linda Hohensee

I think you were discussing unproductive meetings. Working both inside and outside the government I feel I can say I have attended enough unproductive meetings and I have opted out of attending them whenever I can. It is just wasting my time and our peoples time. I sometimes call to see if information was passed around that is pertinent to me. Most of the time I just listen closer to people and know what is happening.
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Linda Hohensee

I like what you are saying here. I do not program myself, but am going to pass this along to two of our people that do. Somehow, I think they may be interested in what you have to say and may wish to help.
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Candace Riddle

@ Andrew – So I fired your idea of the jumbotron off to a friend of mine who is a Contracts Administrator on the private side. He often complains about unproductive meetings. This was his response (a pretty good laugh…but great points):
“Are there fouls for interruptions? Do safety briefs in the beginning of a meeting count towards actual time spent in the meeting? Or is it more like the star spangled banner, like at a baseball game? Sometimes I feel like there should be an “unnecessary roughness” call, however, it should be “necessary roughness” and count as an extra point for those that make unimportant, ridiculous and simply put; dumb comments.

Just an idea”

Antonio Garcia

I know that this is an issue. I recently attending a presentation by OPM and they have been trying to address the issue of useless meetings. What they are currently trying out is just making all meetings optional with no repercussions for not attending. So anyone who creates a meeting better sell it to fellow employees as useful or they won’t attend. I am interested in finding out how this has been working out.

Nicholas Charney

@Ed nice on on the Tetris comment 😉

@Linda thx

@Antonio I’d be interested in hearing more about it too.

@Candace =D

Jenyfer Johnson

The problem I foresee is that too many people THINK their meeting is vitally essential; whereas the attendees realize it isn’t really that vital and could probably have been taken care of with a phonecon or perhaps a mass email. We need to get to the point where people realize that face-to-face is NOT the be-all-end-all of everything and not the only way to accomplish work. In fact is hampers gettting things done sometimes.

Andreas D. Addison

Again the genius that is Nick Charney strikes again. I agree with Linda’s point however I would counter that unimportant meetings tend to be a result of poor project management. Clearly defined purpose and expectations at the conclusion of a meeting can make it functional. I have been to many useless meetings that I wish were properly explained, described and put into context before I accepted the invite. I think as an accountability tool, tracking the hourly salary of meetings would be very useful.