Just how expensive are all these online meetings?

If you want a high-leverage way to improve your company’s culture, one of the highest leverage (even financially) ways to do so, is to take a close look at your meetings. This includes your regularly re-occurring ones, as well as big long ones when kicking off or closing an initiative.

Meetings are extraordinarily expensive, although they aren’t explicitly budgeted for because everyone is on a salary. It’s a “sunk cost”. It's relatively easy to calculate the cost of any regular meeting you hold using meeting cost calculators like this one. Just running it through for a small software development team I ran, it turned out that the daily standup of 14 people cost $100 per instance, multiplied by the number of days in the year, so around $22,000 per year.

The financial cost of organizing meetings can significantly exceed the budget authority of the meeting organizer, like at one mid-market manufacturer, where a junior assistant convened a 90 minute weekly meeting among middle managers that cost $15 mln/year:

For example, leaders at one large manufacturing company recently discovered that a regularly scheduled 90-minute meeting of mid-level managers cost more than $15 million annually. When asked “Who is responsible for approving this meeting?” the managers were at a loss. “No one,” they replied. “Tom’s assistant just schedules it and the team attends.” In effect, a junior VP’s administrative assistant was permitted to invest $15 million without supervisor approval. No such thing would ever happen with the company’s financial capital.

The cost aspect flies under the radar, because it's money the company was already expecting to spend. But this is a good example of confusing the expected outcomes with the underlying drivers of success. Just spending the time in meetings will not help you achieve your company's goals faster. It's spending time in high quality meetings that makes a difference.

And to do that, you need to design your meetings around the outcomes they help you achieve. If you don’t have a clear outcome in mind, then why keep meeting? Especially if you’ve already achieved that outcome?