Let’s say you’re a business owner or manager who suspects that your employees are scheduling too many meetings. You know that if they’re spending hours upon hours in conference room B then then you’re not getting  optimal output out of your talented team. On the other hand, hate them as we may, sometimes meetings are essential.

So how do you nudge your employees away from excessive meetings while still allowing that, in certain select situations, everyone needs to get together to talk?

Arbitrary rules about meeting length or procedure may have their place, but the truth is the situation is fluid and it’s hard to design guidelines that will fit all circumstances, especially as your company grows. But perhaps you don’t have to.

Brian Bailey, who was part of the founding time of Gowalla, has a suggestion that will please fans of the free market. Set a budget for meetings and let supply and demand dictate exactly how each employee uses that allotted time.

Or, to put it more simply, make your employees pay for meetings.

How Does That Work?

Bailey explained the policy in a blog post. "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," he writes.

"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."

Won’t I Have an Insurrection on My Hands?

To any good capitalist this plan has an immediate appeal. Rather than inefficiently dictating how to use a resource from the top, this approach allows those in the trenches to make the best decisions with ample information about the scarcity and value of the key commodity--time. But you can quickly see where there might be a hitch in the plan. Won’t employees hate paying for meetings (already not the most popular office activity) out of their own pocket?

Of course they would. But that’s not necessary. Office funny money works just as well as dollars and cents. "The amount itself doesn’t matter," Bailey writes. "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."

Intrigued? Check out the complete post for more musings on why meetings are so seductive and how to structure the payments.

Would you give this suggestion a try?