Updated: May 10
While the answer to the question, "Can you get rid of meetings?" likely will still be "No Way" at the end of this article, my goal is to help you think differently about how you approach meetings and to limit the number of meetings that distract you during your day.
If you're like me, the number one reason you get frustrated with meetings is that they don't make productive use of your time. Time, after all, is our most valuable asset. We can't make more of it, and we can never get it back. All that wasted time is costly, as just for the United States, an estimated $40 BILLION is spent annually on wasted time in meetings.
So what can we do about it?
We need to start by realizing that meetings can waste your time in a variety of ways, from not starting and ending on time to not being appropriately organized, or the topic of the meetings being entirely irrelevant to the attendees.
Before calling a meeting, it's essential to think of a few things.
What am I trying to accomplish?
Why is all of this important?
Who do I need to accomplish it?
How am I going to present the topic?
We need to answer the questions in the order listed as they build off one another. How can we possibly know whom to invite to a meeting if we don't even know what we're trying to accomplish? Likewise, how could we know how to present something if we're not sure of our audience?
Once we've established a need to meet and with whom, now we can get to the final two questions, when and where?
The venue should be appropriate to the type of meeting we're planning and must be at a time that makes sense. It would make no sense to hold a meeting that would discuss sensitive materials in a public location, nor would it make sense to call a 10 am meeting to talk with your evening shift management team. It would be best if we, as leaders, met them where and when it would be most convenient for them and the topic at hand.
I once heard a story of a hotel general manager who decided to hold his morning management roundup IN THE LOBBY of the hotel! This plan proved to be very unproductive as none of the managers wanted to discuss previous guest problems for fear that another guest in the lobby would overhear the conversation. The result? A complete waste of time.
So how can we think differently if we're already doing this stuff?
A personal strategy I have been using for some time now when it comes to calling "meetings" is to stop calling them "MEETINGS." It's an unorthodox psychological strategy that so far has paid off for me.
You go out and "meet" your friends for dinner or drinks; you make a plan to "meet" somewhere before going to the ball game. The idea of "meeting up" is so closely associated with a social gathering; that it can easily carry over to your business meeting. How many times have you walked into a meeting, and the first 5-10 minutes felt like a cocktail party before it started being productive? Instead, try naming the session what its purpose is:
If the purpose is to train a group of people, call it "training."
If the purpose is to share information amongst a group, try "mastermind."
If the purpose is to come up with info/ideas, then maybe go with "brainstorming."
Alternatives to the term "meeting" are plentiful and, when used properly, can help set expectations. Words like "Presentation," "Update," and "Workshop" all indicate what the attendees can expect when they get there.
Once we've established in our minds that we have a critical "Project Planning Workshop" to conduct, we need to ensure we invite the right people. Often, we ask team members to attend to be informed. Yet, we expect no active/valuable input from them as they are not a contributor, nor did they need to learn the content of the meeting as it's not directly applicable in their department/division. In this case, providing a recap of the discussion is likely a more productive use of their time.
Once all the right players are in the meeting, it's essential to have set expectations. You can set these expectations as the session starts, or they might be part of a previous conversation, especially if you are the direct manager of all the attendees.
Expectations such as:
Arrive at the location on time.
Avoid all distractions (cell phones).
Respect one another and don't over-talk.
For in-person/video conferences, remember body language says a lot!
Considering the number one complaint about meetings is them being a waste of time, it is essential to control the timing from start to finish. Make sure we start on time, ensure everyone who wants to speak has a fair and adequate amount of time, allow time for questions when appropriate, and possibly the most important thing, make sure it ends on time. After all, we have another meeting coming up!
Other things to consider to make the most out of your time together:
If people were there to learn, did they walk away with some portion of the material so they could review it again later?
If people were there to take action, was everyone aware of their action items and deadlines to meet them?
If follow-up is needed, did we discuss when that would happen and if everyone needed to get together again?
If possible, can we schedule the meeting to end 5-10 minutes before the top of an hour, or can we end the meeting early and give people some of their time back?
I hope some of these ideas will help make your next meeting more productive for all involved and ultimately make your company and your team members better for it.
Until next time, be great today, then be even better tomorrow!
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