“I can’t have you tying my team up in daily meetings.”
“Why do you need that meeting; we already have another meeting with the same people.”
I can’t tell you how frequently I get questioned on the number of meetings I hold. Inevitably, though, at the end of the project phase, most people agree with my meeting strategy. Meetings are a part of life. Get over it. Don’t be a meeting avoider, and even worse, if you are creating an environment where people are afraid to have meetings, have you thought about the unintended consequences?
Limiting the dissemination of information. Communication needs to come through multiple mediums. People retain things differently. Putting information in writing as well as orally communicating it ensures you are communicating with people in the way they retain the best. Additionally, oral communication is two-way, which increases the understanding of what is being communicated. Meetings allow mass communication of the same message, which, at time, is necessary.
Encourages people working in silos. If it’s appropriate to work alone, great. If you create a culture where meetings aren’t allowed, people work too independently, which often results in rework. Frequently we have to gain the buy-in from multiple people, and often across many departments. Not doing so can result in changing course more than once and team frustration. Meeting with people one-on-one or in groups increases common understanding and facilitates collaboration.
People start “flying’ in different directions. When you avoid meetings, it’s difficult to keep people in strategic alignment. Meetings allow us to share a vision and inspire people to adopt that vision. Or it allow us, when dealing with a problem, to collaboratively solve it rather than having people working independently and therefore (possibly) inefficiently.
Do you ever stop by someone’s office to work out a problem? Ever grab a group of people to collaborate on a piece of a project? Guess what, that’s a meeting. Whether it’s put on the calendar or not, it’s still a meeting. So now that we have established there isn’t a company in existence who is not having meetings, let’s talk about how to make meetings more influential.
Invite the right people. Put thought into who you are inviting. Make sure you are limiting the invite to the minimum number of people needing to be involved. Sometimes that could be hundreds: for instance, if you are rolling out a new initiative. Often it will be limited to a handful. Make sure the handful of people that are invited are the decision makers or those who have the background on the subject. There is no greater time waster than attending a meeting where the information isn’t relevant to you or in which you provide no value. Avoid putting people in that position.
Have a purpose. Clearly understand what you are trying to get out of the meeting, and communicate it to the team. Are you sharing information, solving a problem, or deciding on something? Whatever it is, make sure you understand what outcome you want to realize by the end of the meeting. Don’t waste time by letting a meeting self-direct towards no end game.
Have an agenda. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy one, and I’ll go so far as to say it doesn’t always have to be published (although it usually improves efficiency when it is). If you are running the meeting, you should have a clear agenda. I have 15-minute stand-up meetings daily with my team. There is a list of items we have to cover in that time. By sticking to the agenda, we are more able to stay within the tight time-frames and to accomplish everything. Whether you have a 15-minute meeting or an multi-day meeting, an agenda provides clarity around the steps it takes to reach the meeting objective.
Meetings about meetings are okay. I know we all joke about having meetings about meetings, but there can be a purpose behind them. If you are planning a meeting that involves a significant number of people or intricate details, meeting about the meeting helps improve efficiency. Spend this time ensuring that the agenda is tight, that you are inviting the right people, and that the purpose will be met by the end of the time spent together.
Keep people on target. No side-barring. No solving other issues. No rambling. No talking to talk. If other issues or questions come up, capture them, and either respond to them electronically, build them into a future agenda, or hold another meeting on the topic. Don’t waste valuable time on other topics. Be positive, but redirect people if they are off topic. “Thanks for that suggestion, let’s hold that thought until the meeting scheduled on the 3rd.” “Great question. Let me respond to the group in an e-mail with the answer.” You get the idea.
Silence is okay. If you ask a tough question or are tackling a complicated issue, don’t feel like someone has to speak every minute. Let the team digest and formulate their thoughts. If you fill the silence, you might intercept a great idea that now won’t see the light of day. I find that uncomfortable silence forces the team to come up with new ideas. And if those ideas aren’t the right answer, they often stimulate other ideas that lead to the right answer.
Have fun, but the right amount. Levity in meetings is good. For instance, as my teams collaborate, we come up with team inside jokes, and usually they surface for a minute or two during a meeting. This helps us bond. Juxtapose that with a weekly four-hour meeting I used to have to attend. In that meeting, the boss spent most of the time cracking jokes, telling anecdotes, or making fun of people. The amount of useful information disseminated could have been condensed into an hour. The camaraderie was actually dampened because we were all thinking about what else we could get done in that wasted time. So have enough fun that it brings the team together, but not so much that it is an ineffective use of people’s time.
Avoid status meetings. Meetings where people line up one after another and give an update on their department or project are worthless. It may help the person receiving the status, but wastes the time of everyone else in the meeting. If you need a status, get it one-on-one or electronically. Status meetings can be valuable, however, if you focus the time addressing key wins (for team recognition) and key problems to be solved. If everyone brought their biggest challenge to the meeting, and the group helped solved them, that would be valuable. Or, if people’s work impacts other people’s work, focus the updates so those dependencies rise to the surface. Status meetings where people are uncovering collisions, dependencies, or are getting great ideas from the team are valuable; reading from a slide deck is not.
If you are a meeting avoider, stop. Do, however, be a meeting expert by having productive, efficient, and appropriate meetings. Meetings allow us to collaborate, disseminate information, and head in the same direction. If used correctly, meetings can actually help us accomplish more in a shorter time-frame by getting us the information we need to move forward. Therefore, go forth, and use meetings wisely.
Jana Axline is Chief Project Officer at Axline Solutions and author of Becoming You. Through her leadership musings she inspires audiences to grow as leaders and ultimately achieve who they were created to be. For more information visit Axline Solutions.