The ratio of meeting time to working time

Meetings — @#$&^%$ — the bane of in-house lawyers. Can’t live with them but (in a big company) can’t live without them. Further, a well-known software designer, Will Wright of Electronic Arts, estimated that with a team of twenty people, “three hours was usually spent working for every hour spent on meeting and coordinating, in Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, Clever: Leading your smartest, most creative people (Harv. Bus. Press 2009) at 32. Wright believes that as numbers on a team increase, “the dynamics of meeting time and productivity almost reverses.”

No law department that I know of measures the ratio of meeting to non-meeting time. Not that meetings are unproductive, but they have a rigidity that certainly cuts down on your ability to do anything else (See my post of March 30, 2008: lawyers who use laptops during meetings.).

Here are two more suggestions to improve the effectiveness of meetings. First, consider the advisability of a general understanding for meetings that “If you don’t speak, don’t come.” Many times I have been in meetings where junior employees of a company come and never venture a peep. Second, from Will Wright, encourage team members to excuse themselves from a meeting where they think they will no longer be needed or benefit with the phrase, “Do you need me anymore?” (See my post of April 22, 2007: meetings with 9 references; and July 15, 2009: meetings within companies or departments with 13 references.).

My most recent posts about meetings break into two sets: those that suggest methods to increase the effectiveness of meetings and those that don’t. As to the effectiveness group (See my post of Feb. 18, 2009: ways to hear from everyone in meetings; March 15, 2009: make conference calls, like meetings, more productive; July 28, 2009: require agendas ahead of meetings; Nov. 13, 2009: allot time to topics in relation to their importance; Dec. 8, 2009: conflict at staff meetings; April 28, 2010: software to set up patent meetings; June 28, 2010: assign a different chair for each staff meeting; and Oct. 20, 2010: don’t ask for straw vote at the start of a meeting.).

The varying topics of the other set elude generalization (See my post of July 27, 2007: skip-level meetings by general counsel; May 29, 2008: keep lawyers out of strategy meetings; Dec. 10, 2009: leave time between meetings; and April 22, 2010: meet for breakfast with law firms.).

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