We are attending meetings we just don’t need. Meetings drive change, inform decisions, motivate people. Yet, it is almost universally accepted that most meetings in the working world are ineffective, pointless, a waste of our precious time. So how do we go about deciding when a meeting is an effective way to achieve a result?
Types of Meeting
To decide which meetings are worthwhile we must first have a simple way of defining them. There are, of course, many ways of doing this. This is how YourCoachApproach defines them:
- Informational: status updates, with stakeholders, team and department meetings, internal training sessions
- Operational: Budget and financial review, planning
- Improvement: problem-solving, sharing ideas, feedback, decision-making, brainstorming
- Motivational: team and relationship building, manager / team member feedback, kick off meetings
And now a quick exercise. Go back through your diary and calculate how many hours have you spent in each type of meeting during the last 4 weeks
Where We Spend Our Meeting Time
Where do you spend most of your meeting time? In informational, operational, improvement or motivational meetings? I suspect it’s in informational ones. And most meetings are a pointless waste of time. Have we spotted a link? Yes, it’s possible to add two and two together and get five. But most of the time 2 + 2 = 4!
Meeting proliferation is often a symptom of a broken workplace culture. Where careers are made by managing upwards, to utter, ‘I don’t know’ is catastrophic for credibility. Presenteeism; if I can’t see you, you’re not working mentality. Success measured by ticking off inputs, rather than the effectiveness of outcomes
That said, there’s a lot we can do to make the most of our meeting time, without trying to tackle fundamental flaws in organisational culture
Operational meeting are necessary. No company works effectively without convening senior executives to discuss company strategy, review budgets. Without a plan, any venture or project is likely to fail. Companies need to move forward. Improvement meetings are crucial to generate with new ideas, eliminate waste, solve problems, agree action. Motivational meetings are one way to assemble a happy, productive workforce
Of course, it’s possible to have too many operational, improvement and motivational meetings. And any meeting is pointless if not run effectively. And that’s a post for another day
Meetings to Shorten, Replace or Ditch
Then we have informational meetings. The majority of our meeting hours. The most ineffective and pointless
- Status update: The one we all seem to despise. Instead, use technology; slack, Teams, email. If things aren’t going well, convene a problem-solving session
- Stakeholders: Use other communication channels. Widely share written communication that starts with an overview including actions, and increased detail thereafter. To nurture how you work with others, grab a coffee or go for a walk
- Team meeting: Sterile information sharing doesn’t work. Replace these meetings with team building sessions, and hold them less frequently
- Department meetings: The ScrumAlliance states the optimal team size is 5-11 people; a midpoint of 8. A department of 8 teams of 8 is 64 people. No meeting of 60+ people ever works! See how little time taken it takes in comparison if the department lead presents in a video call, takes questions via the chat function
The final type of informational meeting, the training meeting, is a discussion in itself:
- Inducting new starters: a great reason for a team building session. Those outside the team can receive a short bio. In turn, existing staff can create a video explaining who they are, their role. Mutual interest will trigger a shared coffee get-together
- Operations, policy, facilities information: Record video and collect FAQs. Host them online, to be accessed when needed by new starters or as a refresher
- Tools and procedure training: This can be outsourced online, even if fundamental to the company. Health and safety is critical to workplace fit out. However, all companies must adhere to the same minimal, high standards (at least in the UK)
What if the organisation hasn’t the appetite to change its meeting culture? Or it reclassifies meetings to hide meeting ineffectiveness? You can take steps to avoid these pointless meetings
Reduce Meetings, Achieve More
We spend hours in informational meetings such as status updates. It’s no coincidence meetings are seen as a pointless waste of time. By shortening, replacing or ditching them we unburden our employees: improve well-being, free up time for those impromptus water cooler moments that drive collaboration, creativity, innovation
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