Meetings Are (Usually) Just Not Worth the Time!

Have you ever been in a meeting and you’ve thought “What am I doing here, I could be doing real work?”.

Of course you have, we all have. So, what do we persist with attending meetings when we know they probably aren’t the best way to get work done?

Imagine if you had to prepare a business case to have a meeting. You know, outline the expected costs and benefits and only get approval if the benefits outweighed the costs. Maybe that’s what we should be doing because if you want to add up the charge out rates of everyone in a meeting you probably aren’t getting any change out of thousands of dollars an hour. We accept this waste as a normal way of doing business but I bet if you asked for permission to get a thousand dollars cash from the companies bank accounts and flush it down the toilet you would get a solid “no” answer.

Don’t get me wrong, meetings can be a useful way to get decisions made, or collaborate on important issues, or spread information. But they usually aren’t.

Here are some tips to get real value from a meeting (please add yours to the list):

  1. First, ask yourself why you need a meeting and if a meeting is the best way to get the work done. Can it be dealt with by an email, a phone call, an intranet post, or a coffee? If you do decide a meeting is the most efficient way to get the work done, then tell people this. I start every meeting I run by clearly stating what the purpose of the meeting is, and what success looks like.  
  2. If you have a regular weekly meeting scheduled for your team, ask yourself if its really needed this week. Don’t keep having regular meetings just because they are in your calendar. And please don’t be the kind of team leader who gets each member of their team to provide a quick verbal update to the rest of the team if you have received written reports containing the same information. This really annoys me but it’s surprising how common it is.
  3. Then choose the right amount of time for the meeting. How did human evolution end up where 3600 seconds (60 minutes) is somehow miraculously the right amount of time to hold a meeting for. Why not 47.3 minutes, or 67.18 minutes, or 3.142 minutes?? Don’t feel obligated to take up all the time reserved. In fact, nothing makes me happier than saying to people “I’m going to give you back 18 minutes of your day”.
  4. Set a day and time that suits everyone you need to be there. No point having half a meeting if some people can’t make it.
  5. Start on time. If the meeting invite says the meeting starts at 10am, start it at 10am on the dot. If someone turns up at 10:01am just record their attendance and write “late” beside their name. This may seem picky but once you add up someone turning up 1 minute late, and someone else being 3 minutes late, and someone else being 4 minutes late, you’ve probably waited for up to 10% of the allocated meeting time. Let people know your meetings start on time.
  6. Only invite the people for the time they need to be there. If someone is number 3 on the agenda then let them know they can turn up 15 minutes after the meeting starts, and they can leave when they have done their part – or stay on if they are interested. In fact, anyone should be free to leave a meeting if their contribution is not needed.
  7. All documentation supplied before the meeting should be taken as read. Nothing wastes time more than someone who hasn’t read the documents or insists on going through them at the meeting.
  8. Don’t let two, or three, people have a conversation that they should have before or after the meeting. Don’t let the loud people talk over the quiet ones. Don’t let people dominate the meeting. Make sure people stay focussed, and ask them not to be checking emails etc. In fact if they are they probably don’t need to be at the meeting anyway. Actively solicit contributions from everyone there or otherwise you just get the extroverts talking.
  9. Finish on time. If the meeting is due to finish at 11am and its 10:50am, and you can see you won’t get through everything then let people know that you will still finishing on time and you will follow up with people to get the remaining work done.
  10. Record really good minutes and action points and distribute them quickly, and make sure you follow up with people before any future scheduled meeting.

As I said at the beginning, meetings can be a useful tool to get decisions made, or work done, but they usually aren’t. Start questioning those meeting invitations, and being brave enough to decline them – simply explain to people that you are focussed on delivering value to the organisation and the meeting isn’t the best way for you to achieve that. And if people persist in sending out meeting invitations ask to see the business case for the meeting 🙂

What are your tips for a good meeting?

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