Meetings, whether they are one-on-one discussions or gatherings of five, ten, or twenty people, are an important part of working life – but they are time-consuming. And often they are criticised for being unproductive, costly, boring, and sometimes unnecessary. Are they always needed? And all of them? Check out these points, and you may find you’ll be holding fewer meetings in future…
1. Be fully aware of the cost of your meetings.
Meetings consume valuable time. Often, time is wasted on rambling discussions, excessive socialising, political manoeuvring, special-interest conflicts, and travelling. Nor is time the only casualty. When did you last find out what your organisation’s meetings were costing in salaries alone?
2. Consider why you hold so many meetings.
Meetings can be very useful tools for communicating ideas, clarifying information, solving problems, making decisions, and building teams. But they can also be held for the wrong reasons:
Do you meet simply because the day of the week traditionally calls for it? Do you meet (but primarily socialise) in the guise of work? Does your department meet once a week – only because another department does? Do you hold many meetings because you believe volume indicates ‘busyness’ and productivity of your organisation or yourself? Do you hold a meeting simply because you haven’t the courage to make a decision yourself? Do you hold a meeting to decide something even though you’ve already made up your mind?
Spend some time thinking about why you hold regular or once-only meetings before considering the following strategies aimed at reducing unproductive meeting time…
3. Establish a workable review process.
Often, regular meetings outlive their usefulness. Try to set a termination date whenever you establish a committee – or, at least, review a committee’s progress periodically and disband it if it is no longer productive.
4. Consolidate your meeting procedures.
One manager found she was spending hours each month in separate meetings with individual department heads, covering more or less the same topics. She now holds a monthly group meeting – which helps the department heads keep abreast of one another’s activities and forges an esprit de corps. Are there any creative ways of consolidating your meeting times?
5. Limit the number of participants.
Problem: The larger the crowd, the greater the discussion, the longer the meeting. Solution: Limit attendance to those concerned with topics on the agenda. Schedule some participants to attend only that part of the meeting to which they can contribute. Make sure key people are present.
6. Define clearly the purpose of every meeting.
Have a definite reason for every meeting. Think ‘reason’ first, then ‘meeting’. Legitimate reasons might include solving a problem or making a decision where group expertise is essential; obtaining information from participants before group discussion and clarification; motivating people with common goals; generating new ideas through brainstorming; exchanging viewpoints; announcing new policies or programs followed by a Q&A session to clarify the issues. Meetings are generally not an efficient way to dispense information; if that’s the primary reason for the gathering, you should rethink the need for calling the meeting…
7. Consider an alternative to a meeting.
Once you have specified the purpose of your meeting, consider whether another alternative might not be a more efficient form of communication, e.g:
- Want feedback on a new proposal? Try a short survey or some quick phone calls.
- Need to disseminate information? Consider a memo, poster, or news sheet.
- Trying to get your staff to know each other better? Run a barbecue after hours or on Saturday.
- Want some ideas on an issue? Put a large ‘graffiti sheet’ in the staffroom.
- Need to hear about problems? Try ten-minute one-on-one meetings rather than tie up all staff for two hours.
If you can achieve some outcomes without calling meetings, you can save much time and the meetings you do call will become powerful, special events.
8. And, as well…
- Occasionally cancel a regular meeting to test the need for it.
- Keep a folder of agenda items and, instead of having regularly scheduled meetings, call a meeting only when your folder has sufficient items. You’ll find that many items will take care of themselves without a meeting!
- Question every item on an agenda. Could they be handled in other ways?
- To avoid losing production and time, work hard to make every meeting a very good one. As Peter Drucker reminds us, ‘One either meets or one works – one cannot do both at the same time.’