Stop calling meetings to save time

Posted on Posted in General, Meetings

Instead of writing a thoughtful memo to communicate to her staff, one executive I know calls a meeting to save herself time.

She thinks it’s a great idea. Her staff would disagree.

Let’s face it. Bosses often use the meeting as a time saving tool, largely because of a culture in organizations that encourages us to work in a way that maximizes the time of those higher up the org chart. Sure, there’s value to this approach. Your boss’ time is, as a matter of fact, comparatively expensive. It makes sense to try to preserve it for high value activities. But calling a meeting, which involves sacrificing the time of multiple other people, just to create more time for yourself is a distortion of this principle. After all, is your time really more valuable than all your meeting attendees combined?

Probably not, but still, it’s tempting for those at the highest levels of the organization to feel they’re the exception. Because in some cases, their time is exceptionally valuable. But here’s the problem with that logic: in an organization, the more valuable your time is, the more valuable the time of those you probably meet with.

Let’s look at the most extreme example: the President of the United States receives a daily briefing report every morning of the day’s security intelligence. But rather than reading the report before the daily intelligence meeting, some past presidents have chosen to be orally briefed at the meeting itself.

Now, the President’s time is arguably the most valuable time of any person in the world. If including an in-person briefing at the meeting saves him time, we shouldn’t think twice, right?

You might think so, until you realize that the people at the meeting who are doing the briefing are some of the highest ranking CIA and intelligence officials in the country. Their time is pretty darn valuable too.

That’s the fundamental problem with using the meeting as a time saving tool. The time saved is obvious. The opportunity cost is not.


Side note: My friend John Jantsch, bestselling author of Duct Tape Marketing and The Referral Engine, has a great new book out called The Commitment Engine. It’s about establish lasting commitment in your employees and customers and contains fabulous advice on culture, purpose, meetings and much more. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

2 thoughts on “Stop calling meetings to save time

  1. Solid point overall, but I think you’re overlooking the point of “one on few” briefings/meetings with experts. The point of an oral meeting with experts isn’t to just inform, but also to challenge and to clarify, especially when it is very near to the timing of a decision. This is a benefit that extends far beyond reading a memo, and generally requires a bit more participation from those present. I’ve been put on one of the hot seats by the president of my company in expert settings such as this, and I did not feel that the president was wasting my or others’ time considering the importance of the decision. As long as the president of the organization know how to effectively run the meeting and limits the number of experts present, it can be one of the most effective and efficient methods of decision making by bridging the gap between those who are making the decisions and those who are most informed concerning the specific decision being made.

    1. I agree with you. There are plenty of good justifications for meeting. I’m simply saying, saving time, is rarely one of them.

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