Recently I came across this article from Harvard Business Review which attempts to estimate the costs of running meetings in your organisation.
Whilst it is instructive to measure things like the amount of time you are spending in meetings, we must be careful not to go too far the other way. Often people try eliminating meetings by replacing them with electronic communication. Instead, we should make meetings more effective.
As a leader, part of your job is to determine the most effective communication method for getting a particular job done. Continuing to choose inappropriate methods is likely to annoy people, frustrate your team and waste time.
I have noticed a lot of meeting-bashing over the last decade or so, with people stating that meetings are a “waste of time”.
Conversely, there has been a lot of discussion about the overuse of electronic communication, where people receive too many emails, the majority of which are not important.
There are some good reasons you should call meetings with your team. As with everything, balance is key, so you don’t want to go overboard where everything is a meeting…and you don’t want to do everything electronically.
Why meetings are useful
Let’s go away from meeting-bashing for a moment and have a think about why you would want to call an in-person meeting with your team, rather than just emailing your correspondence each time.
Meetings are useful for seeing how your team interacts together
It can be an excellent exercise to see just how your team behaves when they are together in the same room for a period of time.
Does your team get along well? Do they have a good rapport? Do team members dislike each other?
These questions can be useful for you to determine who works well together and who does not. We can’t always hope that our team gets along with each other, but you can observe the interactions and see who might be worth pairing together on that next big project and who should be left apart.
Meetings are useful for being able to observe behaviour in person
When so much of our communication happens electronically, it can be easy to go for long periods of time without dealing with your team in person.
One of the key aspects of being a great communicator and leader is to be observant. To be able to perceive reactions, behaviour and body language and adapt as situations unfold. When you’re using forms of communication that are not realtime (such as email) or in person (phone), it can be difficult to observe everything that there is to see.
Is one of your team yawning a lot? Do they avoid eye contact with you? Do they seem nervous or frustrated?
Observing aspects such as these can give you an insight into what might be affecting your team and allow you to adjust the situation if required.
Meetings are useful for eliminating the back and forth of electronic communication
It can be easy to fall back onto electronic forms of communication, sitting at your desk and processing emails all day. It might be beneficial if you spend some time in-person with your team to clarify any issues that are coming up, rather than engaging in the tedium of back and forth emailing, which has the potential to waste a great deal of time and money.
How to have more effective meetings
On the other hand, you don’t want to be one of those leaders who calls pointless meetings. As HBR points out, they can be costly and a waste of time if they aren’t appropriate. The next time you’re thinking of calling a meeting, make sure you consider the following aspects.
Have more effective meetings by removing people who aren’t needed
Sometimes people are invited to meetings “just in case” or “just to listen”. You should think carefully as to whether these people should be invited at all, and remove them if not.
I once consulted to a government department who ran steering committees for their projects. We did an assessment on participation in the meetings based on examining the recorded minutes for each session. In some instances we found that whilst there were 12 people in a meeting, only 4 or 5 were actually recorded as contributing meaningfully to the discussion. To have more effective meetings, you should observe carefully who is required.
Have more effective meetings by booking an hour meeting for 45 minutes
Have you noticed that in many meetings, the first part is spent chatting or waiting for late attendees? Don’t let that happen with your team.
Often, 45 minutes is all that is required. It is slightly longer than 30 minutes, but leaves 15 minutes at the end for the meeting participants to debrief or go to their next location. Try this, it has the potential to save time and reduce unnecessary meeting time.
Most people choose 30 minute or 1 hour meetings. There is no good reason for this, these are simply the most “round numbers” that people choose. Imagine the delight when someone lets you have 15 minutes of your day back to do something else?
Have more effective meetings by doing the work and getting out of there
Try your best to accomplish the goals of the meeting and then finish immediately. Make sure you have a goal for the meeting first! Parkinson’s Law states that
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion
and I think this applies equally to meetings as for any other work. If you allocate an hour and then finish at 45 minutes, get out of there! Otherwise you can be sure that people will chat for the remaining 15 minutes, because that was what was scheduled.
Meetings can be a waste of time, but they can also be very useful. Use them with care, but don’t discount them as a useful method of communication. In-person contact seems to be becoming more uncommon, so use them to build a connection and observe your team. As in everything, there is a balance to be struck between too many and too few meetings when you’re communicating.