Savings from more efficient meetings – great! Except surely . . ?

Thoroughly enjoyed Monday evening’s seminar about running meetings more efficiently. It was run by some specialists in the field, and, being a module that I also run, I was pleased to see how much of my own material and approach was covered. Good process and constructive behaviours will win the day, though this will invariably involve dropping some existing weak habits and so it takes real effort to embed the new practices in the organisation.

The figures quantifying the amount of time spent in meeting, and workers’ attitudes towards meetings all looked similar to the research I use. And the session underlined the need for variety and balance in meetings – we’re right not to tolerate training that uses just two or three learning methods, so we can’t be surprised (and I don’t think we are) that attention wavers and concentration lapses when a day-long meeting alternates between discussion around the meeting table and PowerPoint presentations – with perhaps the odd foray to the flipchart or whiteboard!

All well and good then. Well not quite!

The claimed savings from running more efficient meetings ran into many millions of £s p.a. for very large organisations. But this is purely an accounting value of the wasted management hours spent in meetings . . . those millions aren’t suddenly going to appear at the bottom of the P&L. So what then is the true benefit of running more efficient meetings? Well of course there can be hard commercial upsides if the time released from meetings is switched to money making endeavours. More typically with the groups I’ve worked with the benefit has been to restore better work-life balance for employees who may attend 50 meetings a month. Sometimes the time released has been invested in proper one-to-ones with reports (for untold though not readily quantifiable benefits). Either way, it’s imperative to be clear at the outset about how the accruing efficiencies will be re-deployed for organisational and/or individual benefits – that’s the only way to avoid the zero-sum-gain scenario that sees inefficiencies eradicated from meetings only to appear elsewhere within working life. Oh how often it comes back to the original objectives and expectations for the training intervention!

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