Today was a particular low day for me, having a meeting to discuss a meeting. It was one of those moments where you arrive expecting to talk about X but it appears that others are on X -1. Essentially, despite sending the relevant documentation or reading ahead o the meeting, there were still are discussing what we needed to do… isn’t that we discuss last time? – hence the documentation.
Despite all this, the manager of the one department mentions the ‘cost of the meeting’, the cost of pulling staff away from the existing job. It was interesting to hear that despite trying to maximize the meeting’s output by preparing the material before hand it, most people didn’t read it. Therefore there was two groups: one that wanted a meeting to talk through the documentation and a second to progress what we had agreed before.
So in essence it seems impossible to please all parties, those who are not interested in reading a long Word document and the management who want their staff to be productive and not attend meetings. It was interesting to think that this is obviously not a unique situation; firstly reading online it appears that many studies have found some shocking statistics such as a study performed in 2012 by the Epson and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), found workers waste two hours and 39 minutes in meetings every week, and cost businesses an estimated £26 billion a year. Another astounding figure that I saw, according to study by OfficeBrokers.com, was that UK office workers waste about 200 hours a year in meetings, which many of which may be unproductive.
Other studies I’ve seen even go as far as saying that meetings should be stopped altogether as they don’t provide value or direction to people, especially as it leads to people nowadays working longer hours during the week adding to stress and fatigue. I don’t believe this should be the case but I do think that we need to be more controlled in when we set up a meeting or not… however before we get there.
So, why do we even need meetings?
Many reasons exist for for having meetings, a few of the most popular types usually include on of the following:
Brain-storming or information gathering
It is inevitable that you will need to ask someone about how something works or doesn’t work. These ‘fact finding missions’ can be deemed important or not important which can be difficult to estimate or determine how to manage these. I would suggest that as a general rule would be not use a meeting for these types of situations, there are many collaborative tools available today form chat apps, communicator type tools, email or even telephone conversation. There are, of course, situations that may deem to have a meeting but usually as a measure of last result when you haven’t managed to get the information you require from those other tools.
Status updates and communications
Keeping everyone in the loop or sharing some information to colleagues or the team is important but it really depends on the frequency and importance of the meeting.
Let’s say for a daily status update, this could be classified as frequent and low in importance. You will probably appreciate that having a daily meeting to talk about progress or project updates may seem useful but overtime you’ll find that many people will start to find it boring and stop attending or not really pay attention. Therefore, this can be probably done via another method such as a daily email or telephone call on progress.
An important announcement such as a team change or significant milestone being reached, this would be considered important but not frequent. This would probably benefit with having a meeting with the key participants who are affected by the news, this would drive the importance of this event, where participants will be more likely to attend and provide their attention.
An important decision is needed for a project or department to proceed such as a budget approval or a significant design, etc.. these sessions are mainly about providing a brief for those with the power to make an informed decision. Much like above these are typically pretty infrequent and important, which means that a meeting will probably be best for these types of sessions. However it is key to ensure that only one meeting is required, prior to setting up any meeting it would be useful to agree a set of criteria that decision makers require to make their decision, a bit more work upfront but definitely avoids the endless ‘options’ or ‘one pager’ papers with a multitude of discussions and potentials, etc..
What makes a meeting good or bad then?
I personally would say a few things make it bad or unproductive, namely:
- Lack of clear agenda or objectives for the meeting
- Lack of meeting direction or facilitator
- Having participants arrive late and having to repeat many points for their benefits
- Allowing participants to deviate or change the agenda, or allow conversations to occur
- Inviting too many people (a favourite for managers who like to rule by consensus)
- Allowing meetings to drag on past their scheduled time
- Participants who are not paying attention by working on their laptop or mobile phone
- Missing or incomplete knowledge or participants present
We have all had the thought that it appears that many people appear not to do any work apart from going to meetings, or their job is to set up meetings and attend them. Perhaps this is the case as it is an easy method for dodging work but something that might help these people from dodging work is attempt to correct some of the above points, namely:
- Writing an agenda ahead of the meeting, along with clear objectives and timelines for the meeting
- Minimising the meeting to only a few key participants
- Capturing and sending out actions, minutes and notes after the meeting to prevent future meetings to digress about previous meetings.
- Having face to face or video conferencing whenever possible
- Keep it short, longer meetings drag on and people lose interest. If there is a lot of group to cover it is best to break it up in sizeable sessions.
However, I would say none of these apply unless you have a clear facilitator who should be the person who set up the meeting in the first place.
When to have a meeting and when not to?
So I have mentioned a few pointers above from trying to determine a meeting’s importance and time sensitivity, along with trying to keeping it structured and simple. I believe that meetings can be incredibly powerful tools when used correctly but of course, meetings can be expensive and time costly
Therefore, I have attempted to create a high level flow that will help you to step through making that decision.
Of course, remember once you have decided to have a meeting, ensure to keep it short, have a strong facilitator (you) and have an agenda.