Dirty glasses at a bar

I thought you were taking notes!

A Korn Ferry survey indicated that 67% of respondents felt that they are spending too much time on meetings and calls which “distract from making an impact at work.” Many organizations have tried to rein in meetings by trying tactics like no meeting days to increase focus time. It is a shame that the idea has not caught on. On a personal level, I habitually block chunks of my calendar to ensure I can not be automatically booked into meetings. Note, the Korn Ferry survey indicates that 35% of people invited to a meeting they feel will be unproductive still accept and attend. We need to fix this productivity sink. Measurement is table stakes for change. A few simple measurement approaches that are useful for beginning a dialogue are:

  1. Simple Time Accounting. Count the number of people in a meeting and multiply by the time spent.  Eight people in a one-hour meeting is equivalent to one person being out of circulation. Adding in preparation time and travel time between meeting rooms the number gets larger.  I recently was in a meeting with 37 attendees that lasted 1.5 hours – about 7 people talked, lots of people did email, and the Scrum Master showed PowerPoints from each team. At 55 hours of time (a lot of it billable) was consumed in the meeting. 
  2. Return on Time Invested (ROTI).  I have used this metric as a tool to start a conversation about the value of meetings in a number of scenarios. The process is fairly simple, The facilitator asks the participants to vote on a scale of 1 (no value, this is a blank spot in my life) to 5 (high value, this was worth more than the time spent); Fist-to-Five is often used as a technique to vote. I have seen larger meetings use colored sticky notes to achieve the same outcome.  Meetings with a median response above a 3 (average value) are considered a good meeting, those with less than that require mitigation. 
  3. Meeting Net Promoter Score. This approach builds on the well known Net Promoter Score concept that has been used by organizations for years to measure interactions with clients. I use this for recurring meetings (sprint planning or demonstrations for example). In this case, meeting satisfaction is measured on a scale of 1 (horrible) – 10 (wonderful). (see Customer Satisfaction Metrics for a more in-depth discussion of the mechanics). Meetings with low net promoter scores need to be examined carefully.

Data is valuable because it can be gathered and reviewed, trends can be spotted, and it can supplant opinions in retrospectives (that is good). Retrospectives using even basic techniques such as the rose and thorn (what worked and didn’t) will help to identify improvement opportunities. Start by asking the people most impacted by meetings how to improve them once you have some data!