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Too much time wasted in meetings. Why?. A Microsoft Division Case Study. Phillip Endicott, Simona Lazar, Tristan Ford IMT 580, iSchool, Winter 2006. Introduction. “Know Thy Time.” (Peter Drucker)

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Too much time wasted in meetings why

Too much time wasted in meetings. Why?

A Microsoft Division Case Study

Phillip Endicott, Simona Lazar, Tristan Ford

IMT 580, iSchool, Winter 2006


  • “Know Thy Time.” (Peter Drucker)

  • In previous research, Software Engineers complained they never have time for what they want to accomplish.

  • Top ranking reason? Too much time spent in meetings.

Stats and surveys
Stats and Surveys

  • “Meetings rank among the most inefficient exercises American perform.” (Seattle PI)

  • Typical weekly staff meeting: 50 minutes (16 could be saved if inefficiencies are eliminated)

  • Lack of output:

    • 59% of surveyed people don't take minutes in meetings

    • 56% said action items are never/rarely documented

    • 68% said input from discussions is used only sometimes/rarely when implementing action items

Source: PI article:

Case study overview of ms division
Case Study: Overview of MS division

  • Sudden awareness of big problem! Too much time spent in meetings

  • Most affected: Lower-level managers

    • Number of meetings per week = 12-14

    • Hours spent in meetings per week = 20-24

  • Meetings are the ONLY effective tool available for:

    • downward communication AND

    • lateral communication (between feature teams)

  • BUT meetings take time from production =>

    low productivity

Meetings still a necessary evil
Meetings: Still a Necessary Evil

  • Meetings ARE unproductive sometimes.

  • However… decision-making discussions often demand face-to-face interaction

  • Solutions?

    • NOT: cut meeting time

    • NOT: have more meetings

    • HOT: make meetings more effective. How?

Framework meeting traps

1. Lack of an Agenda

2. Inadequate Reporting

3. Poor Planning




1. Lack of knowledge in conducting meetings

2. Meetings held without key people in attendance

3. Participants come unprepared

1. Disruptive behavior

2. Delayed decision-making

3. Lack of clear objectives

Framework: Meeting Traps

Adapted from Steven R Rayner, “Team Traps: What They Are, How To Avoid Them”. National Productivity Review (1986-1998). New York: Summer 1996. Vol. 15, Iss. 3; p. 101.


Charismatic, yes. Leader, no!


  • Problems at MS division

    • Lack of an Agenda

    • Inadequate Reporting

    • Poor Planning

  • Possible Solutions

    • Plan, plan, plan!

    • Create and Use an Agenda

    • Assign Roles

Leadership plan plan plan
Leadership: Plan, plan, plan!

  • Questions to Ask When Planning a Meeting

    • Is another medium of communication more suitable?

    • Is there a planned agenda?

    • Is there actually a need to meet?

Zyry, Patrice. “Effective meetings – to meet or not to meet: That is the question.” Nephrology Nursing Journal. 27.1 (2000): 76.

Leadership using agendas
Leadership: Using Agendas

  • Why Use an Agenda?

    • Agendas help determine if a meeting is truly necessary

    • Agendas ensure progress

    • Agendas are the pathway to meeting team objectives

Hagerty, Patricia J. “Effective Meetings.” Journal of Reading. 33.5 (1990): 384.

Leadership creating an agenda
Leadership: Creating an Agenda

  • The ‘To Do’ List When Creating An Agenda

    • Decide on the purpose and outcomes of the meeting.

    • Decide who needs to attend.

    • Decide where to hold the meeting.

    • Decide which roles will be filled and who will fill them before the meeting.

Leadership assigning roles
Leadership: Assigning Roles

  • The 3 Key Roles and Responsibilities

    • The Moderator (or chairperson)

      • Directs and ‘controls’ the meeting

    • The Recorder

      • Documents and publishes decisions, commitments, and action plans

    • The Participants

      • Responsible for participating, not just attending

Jessup, Harlan. “A quantum formula for improving meetings.” The Journal for Quality and Participation. 17.3 (1994): 80-82.

Capabilities overview
Capabilities: Overview

  • Problems at MS division

    • Lack of knowledge in conducting meetings

    • Meetings held without key people in attendance

    • Participants come unprepared

  • Possible Solutions

    • Provide training on how to conduct meetings

    • Right mix of composition and information

    • Provide motivation in meetings

Capabilities composition
Capabilities: Composition

  • Composition/Data and Information

    • Employee knowledge of meeting topic

    • Employee skills

    • Relevant information and research data

Capabilities training
Capabilities: Training

  • Training/Tacit Skill

    • Cross-training for core competencies

    • Motivation

    • Organization

    • Interpersonal relations

Capabilities motivation
Capabilities: Motivation

  • Motivation in meetings

    • Seen as useful

    • Organized

    • Participation

    • Appropriate for project

    • Results

Capabilities culture
Capabilities: Culture

  • Organizational Culture at MS

    • Philosophy

    • Structure

    • Systems

    • Policies

    • Employee Skills

Focus overview
Focus: Overview

  • Problems at MS division

    • Disruptive behavior

    • Delayed decision making

    • Lack of clear objectives

  • Possible Solutions

    • Have the “experts” of the subject in the meeting

    • Assign clear ownership

    • Have people commit

Focus meeting disrupters
Focus: Meeting Disrupters

  • Disruptive behavior

Source: Managing Meeting Disrupters. Osburn, Denise.  ManageDayton:May 1991.  Vol. 42,  Iss. 4,  p. 8 (3 pp.)

Focus meeting disrupters case study
Focus: Meeting Disrupters: Case study

  • Non-stop talkers want to impress

  • Outspoken people derail the meeting

  • Shy people never get to talk

  • Intergroup competition is fierce


Focus delayed decision making
Focus: Delayed Decision-Making

  • First Law of Meetings(Lovelace, Herbert)

    • T=k *P2 , where T = time; P = number of people in the meeting; and k is a constant that varies with the company culture

    • 10-minute conversation between 2 people takes 1-1/2 hours with 6 people in the meeting

  • Second Law of Meetings

    • All important decision-making occurs no later than two-thirds into the meeting.

Focus delayed decision making1
Focus: Delayed Decision-Making

  • Decisions are delayed

  • Decisions are not relevant to topic

  • 3M Meeting Management Institute study shows that people sometimes leave meetings unclear about:

    • decisions reached

    • actions to be taken

Source:Group Decision Making. Johnson, Virginia. Successful MeetingsNew York: Jun 1991.  Vol. 40,  Iss. 7,  p. 76.

Focus delayed decision making2
Focus: Delayed Decision-Making

  • Same study shows that group bases decision-making in meetings on:

    • The "expert" rule (most often): people who have the most knowledge about an issue

    • Commitment: decision based on the views of people who showed greatest care for or investment in proposal

Focus decision making case study
Focus: Decision-Making: Case Study

  • The "expert" rule: people who have the most knowledge about a meeting issue/topic or who “own” the issue are not always present in the meeting

  • Ownership of the issue is not always clear

  • Commitment: people are committed to their work, but lose interest in meetings

Analysis and recommendations
Analysis and Recommendations

  • Transfer of information

    • Problem Solving Meetings

    • Quality Meetings

    • Transitional Meetings

    • Motivational Meetings

    • Status Meetings

  • Face-to-face meetings

    • Forum for technical explanations

    • Dialogue

    • Human interaction

    • Creative sandbox

Analysis and recommendations1
Analysis and Recommendations

Meeting Traits at Microsoft Division

  • Pressure from unfinished work

  • Lack of goals

  • Boredom

  • Burnout

  • Lack of enthusiasm/motivation

  • Failure to reach decisions

  • Dominance by one or two people

  • Conflict

  • Lack of constructive disagreement

Analysis and recommendations2
Analysis and Recommendations

  • Leadership: Planning, agenda, assigned roles

  • Capability: People to come better prepared

  • Capability: Competent people to discuss agenda

  • Focus: Clear objectives

  • Focus: Revamp the design/requirements process:

    • make it clear; structure it

    • eliminate ambiguity: use modeling tools

  • Leadership: Formal reporting back to team

  • ALSO: Benchmarking

    • knowledge repository for meeting output

    • better feature integration tools and processes

Analysis and recommendations3
Analysis and Recommendations

Recap: Effective Face-to-Face Meetings

  • Goal/Outcomes/Agenda

    • Moderator

    • Recorder

    • Participants

  • Define Meeting Type: problem solving, info sharing, data gathering, decision-making.

  • Define discussion, decisions, and action items

  • Discussion

    We’ve got 5 minutes… lets here those deep thoughts!

    • Some things to think about:

      • What solutions do you think will have the most influence?

      • Can ‘fixes’ like using formal agendas and having clear objectives counter-act a culture where unproductive meetings are the norm?

      • Our team limited the scope of our analysis to meetings of a MS division. In reality this is a much bigger problem of which unproductive meetings are but a symptom. From the information you’ve been provided let’s extrapolate about the high-level communication issues that may exist?


    Bodwell, Donald J. “High Performance Team Essential Elements” (1996, 1999):.

    Decker, Philip, J. “Characteristics of an Effective Team.” (PowerPoint Presentation) (1996):.

    Hagerty, Patricia J. “Effective Meetings.” Journal of Reading. 33.5 (1990): 384.

    Jessup, Harlan. “A quantum formula for improving meetings.” The Journal for Quality and Participation. 17.3 (1994): 80-82.

    Johnson, Virginia. “GroupDecision Making.” Successful Meetings40.7 (1991): 76.

    Lovelace, Herbert W. “No decision before its time.”Information Week607 (1996): 136. 

    Osburn, Denise. “ManagingMeeting Disrupters.”Manage.42.4 (1991): 8.

    Tobia, Peter M.,  Becker, Martin C.. “Making the Most of Meeting Time.”Training and Development Journal. 44.8 (1990): 34.

    Tuckman, B.W. “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.” Psychological Bulletin. 63. (1965): 384-399.

    Zyry, Patrice. “Effective meetings – to meet or not to meet: That is the question.” Nephrology Nursing Journal. 27.1 (2000): 76.