The Ripple Effect of Meetings

David Wagner, Managing Editor | 4/30/2014 | 25 comments

David Wagner
An article in the Harvard Business Review reveals a startling problem with all those meetings you are having -- they add up in ways you don't expect. Michael Mankins and his team revealed what they call the "Ripple Effect" of meetings, and while they focus on the executive meetings, there's a lesson to learn for the CIO as well.

Here's the frightening truth: To support the single weekly executive committee meeting, large enterprises wasted as much as 300,000 work hours per year. That's equivalent to 7,500 employees working 40-hour weeks. How is it possible that one senior management meeting could waste so much time? It's only one meeting per week for an hour or so? That's 50, maybe 100 hours, right?

The problem is the amount of meetings that occur to simply support that meeting and the prep time that goes into all of it. The research estimated that the senior staff spent 7,000 hours per year meeting or preparing to meet. That is a lot of hours, but that's the tip of the iceberg. There was an estimate of an average of 11 unit-level meetings that existed mostly to give senior management the information they needed for that weekly meeting and it cost the company 20,000 hours per year. And then to prepare for those meetings, the unit managers had an average of 21 team meetings at 63,000 hours per year. And if that weren't enough, there was an average of 130 weekly prep meetings to prepare for those other meetings that used 210,000 hours. All of this to support a single weekly meeting.

Granted, a lot of important work got done at those meetings and the meetings serve other purposes, but think about these meetings. How much of the information from these smaller meetings actually worked all the way up to senior management? 293,000 hours worth of meetings to distill down to one weekly senior management meeting. Clearly, it isn't all being conveyed.

If you're the CIO, you are, of course, involved in that weekly management meeting so the first thing you have to ask yourself is how many of these 300,000 hours are you contributing to? It isn't a small fraction.

Second, you need to think about whether you are further contributing to the problem by having your own version of the weekly executive meeting. Are you holding weekly meetings with your senior leadership independent of the hours we've already counted? Is your leadership then doing the same thing?

We've covered the issue of ineffective meetings on E2 before, but even if you are holding perfect meetings, you may simply be holding too many that are designed to do nothing but support other meetings. Is that the way you want to spend your time?

As I said, real work gets done at these meetings. The act of filtering the right information up the management chain is no minor task. It is a vital part of a working business.

But you have to make sure that your weekly meetings designed to support other meetings serve multiple tasks. Otherwise, you're spending a huge amount of time on simply sharing information rather than serving the business and making decisions.

It is time to audit your meetings and see how many hours you are taking from your staff's work time in the name of communication. You might find you can give everyone some time back just by thinking smarter about the purposes of your meetings.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
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CMTucker   The Ripple Effect of Meetings   5/30/2014 4:11:50 PM
Meetings about meetings
These can really suck away your time, but they are essential as long as there is some structure. Agendas, time blocks, etc. 
mejiac   The Ripple Effect of Meetings   5/30/2014 3:28:14 PM
Re: Actually getting results
@singlemud,

At my current assignment, the clients are endevoiring in a new project that will require massive changes to there current system, and they're spending countless hours spining there wheels and not really getting anywhere.

This is mostly because of trying to apply the same tried and true formula, versus considering outside industry experts.

Coincidently, only when did they finally consider a buy versus a build approach did things started to get traction.
singlemud   The Ripple Effect of Meetings   5/30/2014 10:18:38 AM
Re: Actually getting results
I think the senior management meeting should be well prepared and targeted to the right audience.
MDMConsult   The Ripple Effect of Meetings   5/15/2014 1:14:40 AM
Re: Difficult to measure
A Gigaom study reported that mobile apps improve the experience and lift customer satisfaction. Almost two-thirds of consumers are "very interested" in apps that save time and money. 
David Wagner   The Ripple Effect of Meetings   5/5/2014 12:50:28 PM
Re: Difficult to measure
@technocrat- As the person who almost always tells one too many jokes in the meeting, i take offense. ;)
David Wagner   The Ripple Effect of Meetings   5/5/2014 12:49:01 PM
Re: Difficult to measure
@mtch-mitch- Ha! Well, i'd like to think the forums help solve problems like these, but sure, sometimes whining about the problem just adds to it. Welcome to the boards!
David Wagner   The Ripple Effect of Meetings   5/5/2014 12:47:23 PM
Re: Actually getting results
@mejiac- I recommend using your previous meeting to prepare for the next meeting. It will quicken your pace to insanity and then you can just let go. :)
SaneIT   The Ripple Effect of Meetings   5/5/2014 8:29:30 AM
Re: Difficult to measure
LOL, good thing my job is to stay up on these types of issues so that I can steer process development.  While some people may be losing productivity I'm gaining it.
mejiac   The Ripple Effect of Meetings   5/3/2014 6:33:35 PM
Re: Actually getting results
@David,

"Of course, that's assuming a 40 hour work week which most of us have had ot give up on a long time ago.",

I'm finding myself for the past two months (because of a project that needs to be delivered) going to back-to-back meeting throughout the week, then spending evening hours/weekends preparing for the next week's onslought of meetings...Gotta luv IT :)
mitch-mitch   The Ripple Effect of Meetings   5/2/2014 2:22:56 PM
Re: Difficult to measure
Being that this article is mostly about lost productivity, how many of us are at work, spending how much time reading this article and the comments, then posting our own 2 cents worth on the subject? 

Well, I better get back to the newsvine and my smart phone apps...
Page 1 / 3   >   >>


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