Meetings are necessary in any organization, whether you like it or not. We use meetings to collaborate, inform, make decisions, and to celebrate. Admit it-many of us are not fans of meetings. If we can ban these time-wasters, we would!
Meetings are not evil-bad, unnecessary meetings are. In order to avoid these bad apples that give meetings a bad name, we need to start having great meetings.
To help have great meetings, here are four questions you should ask before sending that invite. That’s right-hands off that mouse and ask these questions before inviting innocent souls to sacrifice their time and energy to a meeting they don’t have to be a part of.
- Is the meeting necessary?
- Who needs to be part of the meeting?
- How will we know that the meeting is done?
- Who will be responsible to follow-up?
Is the meeting necessary?
If the purpose of the meeting can be in a form of an email-send the email. If it’s just a status update or announcement that is one-way, (meaning only one person will be talking) don’t call a meeting. Simply write an email to provide the update or the announcement. It saves time, and it also provides detailed information that everyone can reference in the future.
In a previous role, I was part of a weekly project update meeting. During this meeting, the project teams would provide updates on their respective tasks. They do this by reading a presentation that’s being projected on the screen. The meeting involves as much as 50 individuals-connecting four different conference rooms, and many others connecting individually. This hour-long status update cost the company at least $2,500 on a weekly basis on salary alone. (Assuming everyone in the meeting makes at least $100k/year) That’s $130k in a year! Such an expensive meeting that can be captured in an email. Especially that the presenters are simply reading graphs and bullet points in a presentation.
Best-selling author, Michael Hyatt, has talked about three criteria to consider to know if a meeting is necessary: 1. Need to make a decision, 2. Must involve other people, and 3. It must be done in real-time. If the meeting you’re planning falls under these criteria, your meeting is necessary.
You can’t make a decision, in real-time, with other stakeholders in a void. That can’t be done in an email. It requires real-time interactions and collaborations. It doesn’t even have to be an actual meeting in a conference room. It can be through a video or conference call, or even through a group chat environment. We’ve certainly made meaningful interactions through a chat channel.
That said, a leader needs to make sure all three criteria are met. If all you need to do is “make a decision,” but it doesn’t have to involve others, be courageous and make the decision. Many leaders fear the accountability and responsibility of making a decision that they can make themselves. They would call a meeting to dilute their responsibility by spreading it across other people. Of course, there are legitimate instances to do this, but let’s not use this environment to shift the blame from you if things go wrong.
Who needs to be part of the meeting?
In meetings, the more is definitely NOT the merrier.
An overcrowded meeting ensures fewer airtime for each person in the room. People who are not needed in the room may drown out those who actually have something to offer.
As a meeting facilitator, you’re already challenged to make sure each voice is heard. You may have individuals whose voices are louder, more dominant than the rest. That’s already a challenge while having the right people in the meeting. You’ll make it that much more difficult if you have a number of people who are not required to be there.
Keep the invite list as small as possible. These are the two main criteria to help you decide who needs to be in the meeting:
- You need their expertise to make a decision, and
- The outcome of the meeting will affect their work, or they represent a group who’ll be affected, making them responsible to distribute the information about the outcome.
Set an example. If you’re invited to a meeting and you don’t meet the criteria above, uninvite yourself. Uninviting yourself to a meeting you don’t have to be in gives permission to everyone else to take that initiative to remove themselves.
This guideline doesn’t only help the efficiency of the meeting, it also opens up more resources to do other things.
How will we know that the meeting is done?
You need to define a finish line. Just like any project, task, or activity that needs to have a specific and measurable goal. This is the same with meetings. You need to include the desired endpoint in the meeting agenda and verbally articulate this at the start of the meeting. This will remind everyone in the meeting what the group is trying to achieve.
Having a well-defined finish line can also help stir the conversations towards the right direction. It can help avoid unnecessary conversations, making it a time-saver. If you’re able to reach your objective early in the time allotted for your meeting, you can spend the rest of the unused time for something else.
Who will be responsible to follow-up?
What’s worse than a poorly managed meeting? A meeting that seems to have ‘ghosted’ its own agenda and participants. Be sure to have someone (this can be you) to follow-up with the entire team. This person can share the meeting notes, the action items (and who’s responsible), and the findings.
This follow-up will talk about what the group has decided upon, who’s doing what, and when it’s due. It can also include the date/time of the next meeting. The ‘follow-up’ can serve as a way to keep the ball rolling or a way to close the loop on the subject.
Meetings are constant fixtures in any organization. Done well, meetings can be the center of collaboration, innovation, and engagement. To make the best out of our meetings, it’s important to not be complacent in planning, facilitating, and closing out a meeting. Many of the things that cause the bad reputation of meetings are mainly caused by laziness in the part of the one(s) managing the meetings.
Have you been part of a meeting that just a waste of your time? Do you think any of the questions above could have helped avoid that meeting or make it better? On the other hand, can you share some elements of the most productive meetings you’ve been a part of? Are there any other questions and tips we can use to ensure a ‘great meeting’?
Originally published at https://donvarela.com on July 27, 2020.