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Meeting Madness

By AICC Staff

August 25, 2020

Did you ever go to a meeting and wonder why you were there? With the ease of convening online meetings, I observe that the number of attendees has increased. During more than one company turnaround, I have attended confusing morning and afternoon meetings. I am suspicious of any meeting named for its time frame. These meetings were a particular waste of time and productivity because they included 15–18 people, and the only agenda was to keep everyone informed by going around the table allowing everyone to talk. Much of this talk was focused on missing information, issues of production, or shipping of critical items. Also included were items of general interest, unvetted rumors, and celebrations of various kinds. There was likely 10 minutes of valuable information for each person, but then they sat while someone else got the information they required. This took 45–60 minutes twice a day and occurred with no sense of urgency. I was astonished. This was ingrained in their culture. Did they not understand their company was on the verge of collapse? They seemed to care about their jobs, as well as getting good products to customers. Why had they succumbed to meeting madness? We did not have any time to waste with the bankers howling at the door. Quick action was required. As usual, it began with questions.

What Is the Purpose of This Meeting?

The answers made it clear that the meeting had multiple purposes, including production goals, shipping priorities, and awareness of obstacles (e.g., personnel or maintenance issues) that would require the group to adapt. They also discussed pending jobs.

Who Needs to Be Here?

The customer service manager, the production manager, the scheduler, and the shipping manager were required to deal with the day’s expectations and adjustments. When the discussion turned to new jobs and challenges, they would bring in a salesperson, a specific designer, or customer service person, and perhaps the purchasing agent would be needed. Distinct groups needed to be there for each meeting purpose. Donuts being included ensured that the meeting took on the quality of a roach hotel—once joined, always a member.

How Much Does This Meeting Cost?

A quick approximation of the hourly cost of the present collective of 15 people was conservatively estimated at $454. With the two daily meetings averaging a total of 1.5 hours, that is a $681 meeting cost per day, $3,405 per week, and $177,060 per year. This cost includes only the wages; think of the opportunity cost of all those hours doing something that added value.

Once the purpose and the cost became known quantities, the large meetings were canceled and replaced with more appropriate alternatives. All celebrations were then scheduled during the lunch hour. This resulted in more money being spent to recognize people and incurred an overall savings.

The production meeting gathered with the required five people who stood at a high table with the expectation that the 15-minute discussion would focus on exceptions rather than the prior round robin. Only jobs in danger of failing to ship, safety issues, and any pertinent maintenance information were shared. The afternoon meeting was abandoned.

The new-jobs meeting took the form of a huddle. When information for a new job was complete, the required people, including the specific customer service representative and designer, spent no more than five minutes at the stand-up table gaining the answers they needed.

Were feelings hurt when the meeting was canceled? Of course, and it was made clear to all concerned that missing the social time was preferable to allowing this, and many other wasteful practices, to result in the business being shuttered. By the following week, productivity was up, and the meeting went unmourned.

If you do find yourself in a meeting, I think it is OK to ask why you were invited. What is the contribution you should make? What information or decision-making should you be focused upon? If the meeting leader does not have a clear answer or admits that they invited you only to spare your feelings, you will be free to spend that time more effectively.

Every meeting should begin with a statement of purpose, for example, “The purpose of today’s meeting is to clarify goals and measures for the third quarter.” The meeting agenda should reflect the topics to be discussed, and it can often be added to by the members. Using a flip-chart “parking lot” is a helpful way of ensuring that off-topic ideas will receive the appropriate attention at the proper time.

The agenda is intended to help keep the meeting on track. The action items list will promote accountability to stay on track after the meeting. It encourages attendees to share the load of the various tasks to be completed and to assign specific target dates for check-in or completion. When responsibility for action items is shared by everyone in the meeting, a greater sense of buy-in is created. Being part of implementing a change, staff will be more inclined to cooperate with the change and remind others to do so as well.

We may not be able to stop all the madness in the world, but ending the cost and distraction of meeting madness is within our power.


Scott Ellis, Ed.D., of Working Well provides the brutal facts with a kind and actionable delivery when a leader, a team, or a company needs an objective, data-based assessment of the current state of operations and culture. Training, coaching, and resources develop the ability to eliminate obstacles and sustain more effective and profitable results. Working Well exists to get you unstuck and accelerate effective work. Scott can be reached at 425-985-8508 or scott@workingwell.bz.