Most of us who have had significant years’ experience in the business world have observed how unproductive meetings can take on a life of their own. In my experience as an executive and CEO, I’ve actually encountered folks who claimed, with pride, that they could not do any of their work or respond to action items because they barely had enough time to attend all the scheduled meetings. This is particularly unproductive behavior when “regularly scheduled” meetings often lack their original purpose, or at best that purpose has been radically diminished. Since you chose to read this post, it’s a safe assumption that you’ve come across such “meeting addicts” in your career and that in the name of productivity, you’re interested in helping to lead the quest for fewer and more effective meetings.
Here are some of my rules:
1. No Clear Agenda, No Meeting
How many of you have attended meetings where the subject matter was vague and of dubious value? The organizer is responsible for defining a clear and explicit purpose. What will be covered? Why is it necessary? What are the desired outcomes? I have been known to decline meetings where the agenda is undefined.
2. Challenge Duration and Frequency
I get it. You need a meeting. You have an agenda and you need to call people together. Can you accomplish what you need in 15 minutes? If so, then why take the default of scheduling the meeting for one hour? Make the meeting only as long as necessary. There is no shame in having a meeting adjourn in 15 minutes. And think twice before hitting the button for “Recurring Schedule.” Do you really need to meet every Tuesday for one hour or can you cover this in two one hour meetings?
3. Cull the Attendee List
How many times do you go to a meeting and find “meeting zombies” who are zoned out and checking emails? How often does someone arrive 15 minutes late, sit down and proceed to contribute nothing? Unless an attendee is in training, everyone’s presence at the meeting should be directly relevant to the purpose at hand. There is no de-facto need to have everyone attend every week. Meeting invitations can be sent on an as needed basis. Don’t yield to the temptation to invite folks “for information purposes” even if they insist. Such individuals will often end up as “meeting zombies” in the back of the room. Important note: Beware of individuals who, knowingly or unknowingly, conspire to fill their calendar with a full complement of meetings every day simply to justify their existence.
4. Question the Need
This goes back to the agenda issue. Sure. There may have been a purpose to the weekly meetings last month while you were in crisis mode, but do you still need the meeting? Is there a more efficient way to communicate or get questions answered faster? A meeting is not the only solution.
5. No Action Items, No More Meetings
Make sure someone is recording action items. If nobody has anything to do after a meeting, it’s likely your meeting has outlived its purpose. Most business gatherings are centered on a particular dialogue. Keep such gatherings small and, when there are no longer actions to be remediated, celebrate having moved on!
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Kill the Meeting
There are those who may whine about how much time they waste in meetings (and can’t do their work because of them), but many of these folks may be “meeting addicts” in thinly veiled disguise. They will lobby against all attempts to permanently cancel a meeting. Be steadfast. If there is no longer a need for the meeting, let it die. You have succeeded. There are others who will admire your resolution and bravery.
Even when I was not an executive with the power to dictate terms, I was always a “stand-up guy” who saw the need for each and every meeting to have a real purpose. Have courage and do your part! Stand up and be counted for effective meetings.