Don’t Waste Time Thrashing Around in Meetings – You’ve Got (Real) Work to Do

November 11, 2010

In most typical modern organizations, be it a smaller company of 30 or a large world-spanning corporation, meetings are generally reviled by average employees and cherished by management (Singer). In a smaller company it’s very easy for a manager, or engineer for that matter, to call impromptu meetings on a whim to go over project status, the help desk ticket queue, or a host of other items. Working in a smaller company, I see it first-hand. It’s extremely disrupting to stop work and sit in meetings peppered throughout the day. In larger corporations, it’s typically the organizational structure that perpetuates meetings as various departments in disparate geographic locations try to come to some consensus regarding everything from small personnel issues all the way up to far-reaching topics like overall corporate strategy. Meetings breed more meetings for follow-up on the original meeting’s action items, especially when those tasks are assigned to multiple department heads as communication must then be facilitated across departments and rolled back up to management in yet another meeting (Malik). It’s a truly vicious cycle in most cases and can completely destroy project momentum. So, how to stop the madness? Here are a few tips on reducing extraneous meetings and making the ones you must organize more effective for all involved.

1. Empower Your Team. Let those closest to the needed decision make the call and create an environment where team members can approach one another for buy-in without the need for calling the entire team or multiple department heads together in a meeting. Build trust in your team to make a good call (Singer). All too often we get bogged down in the decision-making process over minutiae that could be resolved among team members. If an issue or change request needs to roll up into a team or inter-department meeting, then do so, but make sure you can’t resolve it outside of a meeting.

2. Find Other Ways to Communicate. Form a living ‘team or organization memory’ using tools like wikis, blogs, or even whiteboards (Khawand). Collaboration tools are manifest and even the smallest organization can afford them – i.e. it doesn’t have to be SharePoint, even though that’s included free with any Server 2003/2008 purchase. In my group, we use our ticketing system notes and a wiki to document our clients and any related issues. All we ever need to do is look at our client history and we can usually tell what’s going on without having to take up time talking or meeting with the team. Of course, this requires discipline in keeping your documentation up to date, but the payoff in time saved is well worth it.

3. Prepare an Agenda. It may seem obvious, but time and time again I participate in meetings where there is no set agenda. An effective meeting chair will think through the entire meeting, formulate what they’re going to say, and keep the agenda simple and concise (Malik). Do not allow last minute changes or permit attendees to hijack or derail the agenda with unrelated miscellaneous items (Malik). Without an agenda and a strong chair to back it up, most meetings will run over their scheduled time and sometimes degenerate into social gatherings wherein the original intent and purpose of getting everyone in a room together disappears. If you’ve all come together to discuss the status of projects, then stick to it. Don’t wander off topic with the newest gadget or tangents on the latest personnel issue.

4. Keep Distractions at Bay. This point is especially problematic now with the proliferation of smart phones and the shift to a mobile, laptop equipped workforce. During several meetings I’ve attended, both internal and client-facing, you can look around the table and see a good 60% of the attendees checking email on their phones or absorbed in other work on their laptop. Invariably, they don’t remember what was said and they have to come ask someone later which renders the effort to get everyone together for the original meeting a waste. Ask attendees to focus and leave their mobile devices aside to avoid additional meetings and unnecessary follow-up (Trapani).

Start steering your organization toward a more fulfilling and productive environment by adhering to the principles listed here. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so be sure to check around for additional tips as there are many. If all else fails, purchase a meeting clock at www.bringtim.com and watch the dollars tally as the meeting wears on – that should change some key minds fairly quickly.

-Mike Gann

References:

Khawand, Pierre. “Reduce Meetings, and Make Them More Effective.” businessweek.com. 10 Oct. 2010. http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/tips/archives/2010/10/reduce_meetings_and_make_them_more_effective.html

Malik, Fredmund. “Managing Performing Living: Effective Management for a New Era.” books.google.com. 2006. http://books.google.com/books?id=5TMGEkmmQ7EC&pg=PA246&lpg=PA246&dq=reduce+number+of+meetings&source=bl&ots=ON604RpTNs&sig=_p5f0Da4DsOJsRZfCygdtEpsh8w&hl=en&ei=FsHWTO_8GcL7lwezk8WDCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&sqi=2&ved=0CDUQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=reduce%20number%20of%20meetings&f=false

Singer, Adam. “How And Why To Reduce Meetings.” thefuturebuzz.com. 9 Sept. 2010. http://thefuturebuzz.com/2010/09/23/reduce-meetings/

Trapani, Gina. “Extreme Ways to Shorten and Reduce Meetings.” blogs.hbr.org. 20 Jul. 2009. http://blogs.hbr.org/trapani/2009/07/extreme-techniques-to-shorten.html

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4 Responses to “Don’t Waste Time Thrashing Around in Meetings – You’ve Got (Real) Work to Do”

  1. Douglas Craddock Jr said

    By working with a larger corporation one of the common themes that takes place in just about all our meetings is the “distraction” piece in which your mention on point 4 of your blog. With the increase in technology as you described as well as the simple matter that many people either don’t care or feel as if the meeting in general is a waste of time they look for outside means to by past the duration of the meeting. Very good points expressed on how to correct the “waste” of time frame of mind for meetings within companies of any size.

  2. Robin Martinez said

    All of these are good points. I find it very interesting that there seems to be universal revile for wasteful meetings but yet somehow they still exist and we all have to attend them regardless of where we work.

    By the way, that clock is fantastic.

  3. I used to work for a non-profit where they delighted in engaging in meetings that lasted hours and served little or no purpose what so ever! All the staff was present and had to report on every little thing in their department. I did not understand why I had to listen to the facility manager explain how he intended to deal with the elevator or the AC problems, nor why he had to listen to me reporting on the progress with our emailing system or explain the inner-workings of the web applications we were developing!
    The blog were right on the money! I would like to add that managers should meet with their team leads separately to work details out and have a meeting maybe once or twice a month for the whole department/teams to share information and get the big picture.

  4. Joey Beck said

    I agree with the need for agendas even for small meetings. It seems it is increasingly common for meeting organizers to conduct meetings on the fly, and assume the rest of us have time to waffle around form topic to topic as the meeting lingers on in search of the final, or intended decision or piece of information . Agendas show the participant you are respectful of thier time, which is also taken for granted.

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