Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

Meetings Shouldn't Be Free

If a company’s most valuable asset is the time and talent of its employees, why is it easy to schedule lengthy meetings with multiple participants? Increasing the cost and effort involved in arranging meetings would make them rarer and more valuable.

Though meetings are often necessary and productive, they can become the default response to uncertainty. If there are questions or unknowns and the next step isn’t clear, a meeting is organized with everyone who has a stake in the decision or might contribute to the conversation.

The problems with meetings are well known. They are typically longer and include more people than needed. The decision making process is sometimes made more difficult, not less. Also, meetings interrupt work and focus, meaning the time before and after what’s blocked out on the calendar is negatively affected as well.

What if there was a cost associated with each meeting? Imagine if a 30-minute meeting with three people cost $50, and each additional person was $10. Adding 30 minutes doubles the cost. So, an hour meeting with four people would be $120.

The amount itself doesn’t matter. The currency doesn’t even have to be dollars. The key is that each team (or possibly individual) in the company has a quarterly balance to pull from, a balance that covers a minimal number of meetings.

If sending out a meeting invitation reduced a finite resource (and it does, this just makes it explicit), there would be second thoughts about whether this specific meeting was worth it. Maybe the meeting could be limited to 30 minutes if the topics were sent out beforehand. Perhaps only four people are required, not six. Maybe the question could be summed up in a succinct email instead.

This assumes that the cost is associated with arranging the meeting, but it would be interesting if there was a cost for attending as well. “Sorry I had to decline your meeting request, but I only have two left for the quarter and I’m saving them.”

There would need to be company-wide visibility into the meetings taking place (a good thing in its own right) and a great incentive to not go over, anything from rewards for success to actual budget impact on the negative side.

The result would be fewer, better meetings, insight into the number and cost of meetings across the company, and people thinking through which ones are truly worth it.