Does This Really Have to Be a Meeting?

By Meredith Summers Posted June 26, 2017


There's little doubt meetings are a double-edged sword for most people in business. Sometimes they smooth out communication gaps, but other times they seem to drain people's will to live. In fact, excessive meetings are usually the culprit behind those 70-hour work weeks. A full 70% of employees state they don't even think meetings help them get work done. So before you block off the time for that conference room, consider the following.

From the Mouths of Executives

It's often the executives of major companies who come down hardest on meetings. Al Pittampalli from Ernst & Young wrote a whole book about how meetings create a hive mind that practically guarantees nothing gets done, and how they often skew the importance of actual productivity. Since business isn't an exact science, companies can get trapped in bad patterns quickly when it comes to meetings. Pittampalli stresses the importance of using meetings as an opportunity to connect with people to get one particular task done — and that task should not be making major decisions. Before you schedule or attend a meeting, ask yourself the following questions.

Calling Meetings

Have You Considered Every Angle?

Before calling everyone together, you should have thought through the scope, milestones, and workflow of the problem in front of you. Much of the time, meetings are scheduled to move a project forward, but they can limit progress by complicating the matter. Taking an extra hour or two to consider the moving parts helps you boil down the problem, so you can present it in such a way that saves everyone's time (and brain power.) The last thing you want to do is stunt creativity or interrupt people's thoughts with mind-numbing information. In doing so, you may even decide that you don't need anyone else's input to make a final decision.

If you don't actually need to see someone face-to-face, then consider sending an email, making a quick phone call, or sending out a group chat message.

Do You Need to See Someone Face-to-Face?

This question doesn't discount the importance of working relationships. We all know how dangerous it is to rely on technology to communicate rather than taking the time to interact with someone. But if you don't treat people's time with a profound amount of respect, they won't do the same for you. Bottom line: If you don't need to see someone face-to-face, then consider sending an email, making a quick phone call, or sending out a group chat message.

Is the Meeting Likely to Get Off Track?

If you're calling people together for a vague goal, you can't be upset if the conversation starts to get discombobulated. While some people look at these brainstorming sessions as helpful for the company, most of the time they just twist people's brains in circles. For creative types, this can end up sparking a new idea that propels the business forward. However, for those who just want to tackle their to-do list, they're not going to appreciate being called into a meeting that ends up straying into topics far outside the realm of routine business matters. Try to imagine how the meeting will go and how you think all the participants will react to spending the time to come to your meeting. Will they either find or provide value? If not, pare down the conference list to value adders or receivers.

Is It Easy to Come Up with an Agenda?

Meetings that need to happen should practically write their own agenda. The meeting leader should be there to cover select, straightforward points. Once it's over, employees should understand the updates and their role in the company moving forward. This is why experts caution against bringing in a team to make major decisions for the company. The more you open the floor for opinions (and the more opinions you get), the more likely it is that the agenda will fly out the window.

Attending Meetings

Instead of just blindly hitting accept to every invite you receive for a meeting, you should consider whether or not you should commit your time. There are questions you need to ask yourself before you leave your desk.

What Do I Get Out of This?

Meetings don't have to be inherently interesting or fun to be productive, so that's not how you should evaluate what you're getting out of the meeting. However, if you're always hearing the same information repeated over and over again, it likely means you can skip the meeting without repercussion. Maybe only one small slice of the meeting even involves you, with the rest of it feeling superfluous. And of course, the ultimate sign you're getting nothing out of the meeting: you're doing other work while people are talking. Question why you're working on other business in regular meetings. Is it because you're overwhelmed with work or is this simply not a good use of your time? Discuss it with the meeting organizer afterward.

And of course, the ultimate sign you're getting nothing out of the meeting: you're doing other work while people are talking.

Will People Be Prepared?

Consider whether or not people will be prepared when they step into the meeting. For the most part, this means asking whether or not the person who called the meeting will be prepared. It's the leader's job to keep everyone on track and ensure they're only inviting people who will show up with something to say. If you've noticed the meeting leader relies on others to dictate where the meeting heads, then you don't need that kind of distraction in your day.

The Other Side

Saying no to a meeting can be difficult in small businesses where there are only a few people, as your refusal is likely to single you out and potentially make you seem difficult. To some degree, time-wasting meetings are a symptom of a poor company culture is, of course, going to be difficult to change. Organizations should consider the opportunity cost of meetings, that is, what more valuable work could be getting done instead of attending meetings? No matter how tricky it is to broach the subject though, your superiors should be open to hearing about how excessive meetings hinder your productivity.

The Bottom Line

Meetings can be a good way to get everyone on the same page, but they often waste the most valuable resource in a company. If too many meetings are what's stopping you from having a better work-life balance, then it's time to come up with a better workflow. To save your productivity (and sanity), stop the madness by refusing to call or attend another pointless get-together.

Meredith Summers

Professional freelance writer for companies who want to get more done. She enjoys reading, going to the beach, and brief descriptions of herself.


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