Over the holiday weekend I was privy to some friends griping about a side of professional life I have, thus far, been lucky to avoid: pointless yet mandatory meetings. They come in all sorts of flavors from "staff meetings" to "team update meetings" to "just checking in to see how you're doing meetings" and tend to take a nice bite out of ones day- not to mention productivity- as the leader aimlessly attempts to give the assembly some meaning. I listened as they each recalled their horror stories; entire days eaten up by meetings where their input nor presence was necessary, open ended (i.e. endless) review sessions without any structure that continually deviate from any semblance of a productive course, hours wasted trying to set up/understand presentation technology that is supposed to help not hinder meeting efficacy. The tales went on and on each contributing to the mounting sense of frustration over these bureaucratic inefficiencies. Before they got to riled up I changed the topic - this was a BBQ after all- but it left me wondering what would be a few easy considerations to take before planning a meeting that would help you avoid chaotic time sink territory. Here is what I came up with:
- Why are you calling the meeting? If you can't identify at least three reasons to bring people together for a conversation then you could probably scratch the meeting itch with a well worded email inviting a response. If you're calling a meeting because you always have a Monday meeting ask yourself whether they are really necessary or if you could convey the message in a group voicemail, email or simply make the meetings less frequent.
- Are you looking for feedback, input or discussion? Or, are you just looking to talk. A theme appeared as I listened to my friends talk. Too often meetings were called when someone wanted to report something or share pertinent information but wasn't really interested in what the attendees had to say. I can understand wanting to make sure the message was received but sending an email with a receipt attached or "to let me know you've read this send me a reply with 'PURPLE' in the subject line" placed randomly in your message are two ways you can ensure your message has been received without taking up valuable work time.
- Who really needs to be there? Unless a person's opinion, experience or work is required to achieve the goals of you're meeting then they probably don't need to be there. Giving the usual suspects the option to attend a meeting is one thing but requiring them to be there when their minds are elsewhere isn't doing anyone any favors. Put some thought into who you're asking to attend and you might find your meetings move a bit more smoothly.
- Give it some structure. It is no secret I'm a fan of organization and I think every meeting could benefit from some structure. When setting up a meeting let the attendees know when you want to start and how long you're intending the meeting will go. Then STICK TO THAT. Letting people know you appreciate their time and busy schedules and dedicating yourself to a predetermined amount of time will keep the spirits high and meeting clicking along. If you're really feeling on top of your meetings go ahead and share that list of reasons you identified back up on question 1. Priming their minds for the matters you're going to touch on will mean they'll also be more prepared for the meeting.
- Multitask. If you find yourself reaching for the meeting button every time something crosses your mind that you want to share I would suggest instead adding it to a meeting "to do" list. At the end of the day/week take a look at the issues you've identified and see if there is some way you can bunch things together in one meeting or, pull out a few really important issues to dedicate meeting time to then write an email to cover all the other smaller issues. The most effort you put into streamlining your meetings the more effective that time away from other tasks will be.
These five points are by no means a cure-all for the meaningless meetings epidemic however they are a starting point for inciting change within your organization. Smarter more effective meetings will send a ripple of similar efficiency through the rest of your company's workflow so start tightening up your meeting strategy today.