Let’s Have a Meeting

…or maybe let’s NOT have a meeting

Meetings – we love to hate them. While few of us would argue that we should abandon all meetings in the workplace – they are often essential to the effective achievement of organizational goals and objectives – probably even fewer would state that they have never wasted time in a meeting.

The cost of ineffective meetings can be massive. Figure it out for yourself. Let’s say you hold a weekly meeting of Department Heads, or sales staff, or your direct reports (and by the way, recurring meetings are often the ripest for killing off) so you gather maybe a dozen people together. That’s 12 worker hours a week times 50 weeks, or 600 hours at risk. If your meetings are even 25% ineffective or unnecessary, your weekly meeting wastes 150 hours each year. If the average employee in the room costs (in salary and benefits) $35.00 per hour, your one weekly meeting has an inefficiency cost of  $5,250 per year! If this is happening all across your company, the costs mount up quickly.

The additional costs, in employee dissatisfaction, disrupted daily schedules, wasted preparation time, and in many other ways are immeasurable.

So, what to do? A good first step is to ask “Is this meeting really necessary?” This is a question that is not asked often enough, but if it were, I’m betting a lot of meetings would never be scheduled at all, and the regular weekly meeting would become a rare occurrence. This does not mean that your team can’t communicate and collaborate effectively, but instead of gathering together in the staff room, or dialing in to the conference call for a traditional meeting, use tools and services that allow for asynchronous dispensing of information, project management, document sharing and group or individual communications. I’m partial to Basecamp but there are many similar tools available, including Trello, and Asana, and there are experts who have done comparison studies for you to help you decide which is right for you.

If you really must have meetings, make them as efficient as possible. Here are a few ideas that don’t cost much more that making smart choices and changing some behavior, but they will go a long way to insuring that the meetings you can’t avoid are meetings that are worth the time.

  1. Make them Convenient: A lot of the inefficiency of scheduled meetings is connected to getting everyone together in one place. We mentioned conference calling, and effective meetings can be held with video conferencing tools like GoToMeeting, WebEx and others, and again, these tools have been compared and evaluated nearly ad nauseum to help you make decisions about which would work best for your group. Another consideration is where people are coming from – often the meeting is held for the convenience of the boss, but what if the ideal meeting place is somewhere else, equally convenient to all? In case you wondered, yes you can find this online with tools like “Let’s Meet in the Middle“.
  2. Have Shorter Meetings: – gathering for a short, but efficient Status Update meeting is often better than sitting down for a long slog. For various reasons, including our inherent lack of long attention spans, short structured meetings are usually best. Like 15 minutes maybe. …
  3. “Right Size” your Group: In most cases, this means “invite fewer people” (but invite the right people) Most meetings require fewer, rather than more people to accomplish their purpose(s). Often the guest list gets longer than needed because people don’t want to feel left out. This strategy has the added value of making it easier to find a time when all participants can meet – the fewer number of invitees, the more likely it is you can schedule your meeting in a prompt and timely manner.
  4. Have an Agenda: Short or long, in person or dialing in, it’s a bad idea to ever have a meeting that doesn’t have an agenda. Writing out an agenda for your meeting in advance alerts all participants to the topics, goals, objectives and actions planned for the meeting. This in turn allows meeting attendees to come prepared. When you know what is going to be discussed, you can be better prepared to be an active member of the discussion. If additional assets (documents, reports, etc.) are necessary, they will be brought to the meeting and interruptions to “go fetch” will become unnecessary. By estimating reasonable, but effectively short time frames for each agenda item you will also be able to…

Trust me, I could go on and on about this topic, but then the point of it all is using your time effectively, so let’s just stop here for now and wish you luck for you next meeting, and all those that come beyond it.