The hidden cost of meetings and why hiring someone to facilitate can be a great idea

The scene: Window Rock, Arizona, capital of the Navajo Nation.

The participants: A group of educators representative of several organizations and agencies.

The Purpose: Develop an vocational training program to enhance the skills of leaders already in place throughout the tribe. The plan had to satisfy the practical needs of skill development and the intangible need for a sense of credible achievement usually accompanying a college or institutional degree.

We had met before and this meeting was to be the one where the system we’d been working on started to gel.

But it didn’t.

We spent the entire day and by 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, nothing concrete had yet emerged.

In frustration, I intervened and asked?

“Has anyone here considered how much this meeting is costing?”

Someone replied an incredible, “Almost nothing. The meeting room is free. We all paid for our own lunch. So it cost nothing.”

“Wrong,” I objected. “Here’s what I want us to do right now. Each one of you write down your annual earnings paid by the organization or agency that sent you. The divide that by 2080, the number of work hours in a year. I know that most of us work more than that but let’s be systematic and used that number. How’d I get it? 40 hours a week times 52 weeks comes up to 2080. Figure it out.”

“Next,” I added, “multiply that by the number of people in this room. Some will probably make more, some less. Then give me the total you came up with.”

I collected all the totals and divided it by the number of answers to get an average. That meeting, held back in the 1980’s, cost well over $3000 just in salaries. I asked them to factor in travel costs, meals, and if they hadn’t already, proportionate amounts for benefits and the number grew a good deal larger.

Budgets are always an issue. Finances need to be accounted for and expenditures planned. The flow of funds must be scrupulously managed to satisfy the needs of the enterprise and your constituents.

But money is not the only resource that needs your careful attention. Time does too. Just consider the story above the next time you schedule a meeting. It costs someone – you if you’re the owner, the owner of your company if it isn’t you, the constituents, someone pays for the wages, salaries, and benefits consumed for the meeting. Add in planning time, travel there and back even if it is just a walk down the hall, meals if any, incidental costs like copying, broadband access, on-line fees if you’re using GoToMeeting or a similar service, the wages paid support staff to prepare for the meeting, and the time of everyone spent to follow-up.

Now, is the meeting really necessary? Does everyone have to gather or can the same thing be accomplished by conference call or other service? If everyone must gather, and sometimes this is indeed the case, then how can you expedite the process saving everyone’s time (yours included) and the company’s money?

One way is to hire the services of an outside facilitator. Yes, they cost money, but they save a lot of time. Lots of time! How?

I’ll show you at least a dozen ways on Thursday.

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