Business PresentationThis is a long post so I’ve broken it into two parts

  • Part 1 – look at your own meeting booking habits
  • Part 2 – The story of a manager who absolutely loves meetings

Part 1 – look at your own meeting booking habits

Meetings can be effective in the corporate world when used well, however a complaint I hear a lot is that there are too many useless meetings. Meeting after meeting and scattered across the week with small gaps in between. Couple that with a workplace culture or a senior manager that absolutely loves meetings, and an overzealous Scrum Master that books all more and more meetings – can quickly lead to frustration. Especially when you’re asked the next day: So why haven’t you finished that work?

What can you do when endless and pointless meetings are sapping your productivity?

An effective meeting

First, we need to understand what a good meeting is made of. Here are some simple guidelines for a good meeting:

  • Have a specific purpose or expected outcome for the meeting
  • Have someone to facilitate that meeting (usually the organiser)
  • Have someone taking minutes and actions
  • Only people who need to be there, are there (and conversely if there are critical participants make sure they are going to be there so others’ time isn’t wasted if they’re not)
  • The meeting is time-boxed doesn’t go over the time-box; wrap up and continue another time to show you respect others’ time by keeping them on schedule
  • Keep it short if possible – a 30-45 minute meeting will expand to take a full hour if you book it for an hour.

With the minutes, make sure these are only the important decisions and actions. When you send it to people you want them to think “Thanks! That was good and useful information to have.” Once they read them. You don’t want to send 6 pages of conversation that will only waste people’s time if they open and read it.

This is just another way of respecting people’s time – always think about that before you organise a meeting.

Can you achieve the outcome with other communication methods?

Before you organise a meeting ask yourself if you can achieve the outcome more efficiently with other communication methods.

E.g. Scheduling a 10 person meeting for 30mins to give a status update will take up 45mins of those 10 peoples’ times as they have to get to and from the meeting as well as wait for others to arrive. You could have just sent an email and achieved the same outcome much more efficiently…

  • Need something now? – use the phone
  • Need something soon / want to multitask? – use instant messaging
  • Doesn’t matter if they don’t reply for a couple of days? – use email

Is the cost of this meeting worth it?

Another way you can discourage yourself from scheduling unnecessary meetings is to do a quick calculation of the cost of taking X number of people away from their work for Y time – do you have a purpose for the meeting and is it worth that? Don’t suggest this to your own manager as that won’t go down well, but it’s good to think about for your own meetings.

So now that you understand what makes a good meeting and when it’s appropriate to organise one, you’re ready to change your workplace culture! See part 2 below – the story of a manager who absolutely loves meetings.

Part 2 – The story of a manager who absolutely loves meetings

I’m sure you’ve all had a manager who absolutely loves meetings. I’m talking about having a pre-meeting discussion about the planning meeting where the project kick-off meeting is going to be planned. Imagine your manager loves meeting so much that you can’t get any of your own work done.

You need to understand what motivates your manager to do this.

It might be that your manager doesn’t actually know how to do good management work! They may think that they need to track and monitor every single thing their team members are working on all the time. So that if their boss asks, they know exactly who is working on what tasks. They also constantly organise status updates and many other types of meetings to let people know what they are working on.

This behaviour stifles the team because the team members can’t get anything done.

Your manager may think if they’re not filling their 40 hour week with this ‘management work’ then they aren’t providing any value.

However their value as a manager comes from helping their teams to get things done; not from doing ‘management work’ like status meetings. Their boss doesn’t need an immediate answer to every question – the boss just needs to avoid wasting time asking 5 different people to get an answer. The manager just needs to go to the right person and provide the info to the boss a short time later. The management work should take 10 hours a week, not 40 hours.

You can’t just go and tell your manager they don’t know how to manage!

How do you convince your boss to have fewer meetings?

You can have a discussion with your manager around the things you do that add the most value to the team and your organisation. Once you agree on these things, track our activity for the next couple of weeks and see how much time is spent on your most valuable input versus meetings, interruptions and other things.

Then in your discussion with your manager, share these findings and say: I’ve haven’t been spending my time on the things we both agreed are where I can add the most value to the organisation. A large proportion of my time is taken by meetings. How about if I excuse myself from meetings where I’m not really needed so I can spend more time on these other things?

Another thing to try is just suggesting improvements to your manager. Maybe suggest that if it’s a status update, the manager can send a spreadsheet or PowerPoint template to each team member to fill out with a couple of bullet points on the status of their work. The team members can email the slide back and the manager has the input needed for their project report. I see project coordinators do this a lot and never need a meeting to collect status.

You can also suggest technology to eliminate the need for more meetings. Collaboration software such as Confluence can be used for each team member to update a page with new information or work that has been done. Anyone who needs to know can subscribe to the page and receive notifications when it has been updated. Then people can ‘Pull’ updates instead of being ‘Pushed’ the updates which can be a much more efficient process for anything that’s not an emergency that immediately needs to be known by everyone.

The I Done This blog has an excellent article on having fewer meetings (http://blog.idonethis.com/fewer-meetings/).

What if they really don’t want to listen?

If your manager really won’t listen to anything you suggest and just wants to keep having meetings, it’s probably a deeper issue and you’d need to understand what motivates this manager to behave this way.

If you’ve understood the motivation and subtle suggestions still don’t have the desired effect, try your suggestions when other people send meeting requests – ask them to add the purpose or an agenda, ask them if you can be excused, or shorten the time for the meeting. Perhaps your manager will fall in line if others in the organisation want to try more efficient ways of working, with fewer meetings.

What if it’s not just your manager?

Imagine if it’s not just your manager but others in the company as well. You’ve also got a new Scrum Master who insists on 4 hour planning sessions for the sprint and 15 minute stand-ups that turn into 1.5 hour discussions every morning. Combined with the meeting loving manager you directly report to, and you’ve got no time for anything else but meetings!

This is where it’s become the culture of your workplace and just like any cultural workplace change, it’s going to be a very tough process and take a lot of effort to improve this.

Changing your workplace culture

The number one thing is to make sure that what you’re doing aligns to your organisation’s goals and benefits your organisation’s customers. Understand what drives the business and frame your communications in that context.

Lead by example – think of how you affect other peoples’ time before you book meetings, send emails, reply to all on emails or take up people’s time with needless gossip. Once you build a reputation for efficiency and getting things done then you can slowly bring in a suggestion for improvement.

Start with one suggestion and keep mentioning the benefits of trying this one change. Try to bring this idea to a decision maker high enough in the organisation to put it into practice. Maybe your organisation has an ideas portal or a town hall where you can make the suggestion.

If you can get one suggestion implemented that removes a re-occurring meeting that many people complain about, people will see the benefits of this and it’ll become a snowball that builds more and more momentum. Eventually you’ll have changed the culture of the workplace by making it more efficient and improving team morale.

How do you avoid too many meetings at work?