Meetings: The Killer of Progress
I love meetings. Well, I love the concept of meetings. When they are done right, nothing beats getting together with a specific group of people to discuss relevant issues or brainstorm new ideas. Beyond that, my affection for meetings unravels like the sweater from that Weezer song.
In most organizations, meetings have become the default way for groups of people to communicate or collaborate. Whoever heads the department or leads the team assumes that, in order to move the project along, another meeting needs to be called. But we all know how easily meetings can drift and become ineffective.
How do we save ourselves from death by meeting? Can we develop healthier meeting habits? How do we know when to have a meeting or try some other method?
Here are some guideposts to keep us from crashing down the black hole of endless meeting. Before you hit send on that next invite, ask yourself these questions.
Is this a recurring meeting?
Can we please stop mindlessly scheduling recurring meetings? I’m pointing the finger right back at myself on this one. I have done this more than my fair share of times. The worst culprit in this scenario is the two-hour weekly departmental meeting. It is like the Shark Week of the organizational world. Occasionally, there is excitement, but most of the time it is just the same boring routine. We come into the meeting with very low expectations because we discuss the same issues over and over. People are on their phones or laptops half the time and we leave without any clear action steps.
If you must have a regularly scheduled meeting, try shortening it or have a standing meeting (literally have everyone stand). These things can help the meeting move faster, causing the team to be more focused on the most important things.
Can other communication tools be used?
If you don’t consider another question, please look at this one before you schedule another meeting. The vast majority of content in our meetings can be communicated via email. It’s just true.
Look at your agenda, assuming you have one, and mark anything off the list that can be communicated via email. Then look at it again and mark anything off that can be addressed in a brief one-on-one conversation. If there is anything left on the list, then call the meeting and talk only about those things. If someone tries to bring up a topic that is marked off the list, ask him or her to start an email chain about it.
Are we prepared for this meeting?
The worst meeting faux pas is coming unprepared. If people aren’t prepared, then delay it if possible. Unless otherwise noted, meetings should not be a circus of spontaneity. I am that guy who thinks I thrive by spontaneously reacting in the moment. This is great for solving an emergency problem at youth camp, but not so good for planning next year’s message calendar.
Encourage every member of the meeting to spend ten minutes preparing before they walk in the doors. Give them questions to answer or lay out your main objectives. Send these notes a few days before it is time to meet. Even ask people not to come if they haven’t prepared. It may make some feel bad, but it lets them know how much you value their time and yours. As a leader, you cannot come into a meeting unprepared. Spend time honing down the essential points and consider how you will lead the conversation toward action steps.
Is this the right time to have this meeting?
Consider others’ schedules and seasonal responsibilities. It is perfectly fine to put a meeting into hibernation for a while and bring it back again if necessary. In the meantime, you will have to commit more time to other communication channels, but then again, you will also have one less meeting to attend.
One simple hack that you can use any time of year is to not lock yourself into thirty minute or one hour time blocks. Schedule your meetings in ten-minute increments like 20 minutes or 40 minutes. It can squeeze the unnecessary fluff out of the meeting.
How expensive is this meeting and is it worth the cost?
We don’t think in these terms very often, but it should absolutely be a consideration. Say you are calling a weekly meeting with your five department directors. Each of those directors earns an average of $60,000/yr. If your meeting lasts two hours a week, that meeting is costing your organization $300/wk and $15,000/yr.
Ask yourself, “Is this meeting worth $15,000?” This puts it in a different perspective, right? This can’t be the only consideration, but it is a valid one. After all, every one of those dollars in a church is given by a real person who is putting their trust in the leadership. We can’t take this lightly and should work hard to stay connected to this fact.
Do I really need all this input?
Sometimes we use meetings as a crutch. We are looking for some kind of consensus when we already know what needs to be done. I’m not talking about rallying people around a vision. I’m talking about procrastinating by crowdsourcing.
In some instances, you just need to make the decision and communicate it. Doing this in a balanced way can actually increase collaboration and not inhibit it.
Time is the most valuable resource in any organization. Before you call your next meeting, consider these questions and work hard to build better meeting habits. They will result in greater efficiency and morale for the team and greater respect for you as a leader.