Want Better Meetings? Know when NOT to meet

photo credit: schipulites

This post is part of a series.  Click here to read the whole thing.

I’ll admit it.  I love meetings.  I love the socializing, I love the energy of people working together toward a common goal.  I love the excitement generated when a group of people come up with an idea no one would have considered on their own.

I realize, however, these meeting joys aren’t a sure thing.  Some meetings go on and on forever, wasting everyone’s time and generating nothing but mental lists of ways to end your suffering with office supplies.

There is a way to have more meeting joy and less meeting sorrow.  All you have to do is learn when to back away from the flipchart.

When Not to Meet

Meetings have a bad reputation because they are often used inappropriately. If you attend meetings under the following circumstances, all the great planning in the world won’t take away that “stab your eyes out feeling.”

When you (only) want to deliver information

Meeting so you (or anyone) can “hold court” to pontificate about your latest ideas is an ego trip–and thus a terrible use of time.  If your meetings basically involve one person (or worse–a series of people!) talking, and everyone else listening (or pretending to listen) you need to stop having meetings and start disseminating information in more appropriate ways.

Ideally, the alternative will be a written report.  Reports make the information available in an easy to access format that doesn’t depend on the memory or mood of the listener.  It’s also more concrete, so the presenter is likely to be much clearer than he might have been if he were giving the report off the cuff.  It does take a bit more time to prepare–but if you consider the total amount of time used by the speakers and the listeners–it’s a big savings.

If a written report just isn’t going to happen, consider video reports or audio reports.  These reports can then be transcribed–providing most of the benefits of the written report in much less time.

When being in the same room adds nothing to the process

It is common for a team working on a  project to assume regular meetings are required to “keep everyone on the same page”.  Thanks to the internet, many of these meetings are no longer necessary.  Hold one meeting at the beginning of the process to develop parameters, make sure the group has a shared understanding of the task ahead, and then do the rest of the collaboration using an online tool like Wiki Spaces, Google Docs or Google Wave.*

These tools allow for asynchronous communication and create instant documentation of the work that is done.  This means instead of holding a meeting and then going off to do the work– team members do the work as their schedules allow.  By using the collaboration tool, the team still gets the value of group input but they don’t have to do the work at the same time, and they don’t have to send the document back and forth as an attachment.  This means no more updating the wrong copy of the document.  The online tools also offer version control so it’s easy to see who made what changes when, and to revert to old copies if necessary.

When you are finished, use the meeting time you saved to go out  and to celebrate.

When the right people can’t attend

Meetings work when the right people come together to discuss the right things.  Having a meetings with only some of the players, or with people “representing” someone who can’t attend don’t work.  If the key players can’t or won’t attend, all the meetings in the world won’t help you make progress.

When people aren’t prepared

If the agenda didn’t get out on time, or if participants haven’t come to a meeting prepared to work (for whatever reason) it’s really best to cancel.  Your preparation time may feel wasted ,but by holding the meeting will waste more time, and  you will train participants that preparation isn’t required.

When you don’t have something specific to discuss

Holding a meeting just because you’ve got it set up as a re-occurring appointment on your calendar is not a good reason to get everyone together.  If there are difficult, complicated or controversial topics to discuss–by all means, have a meeting.  If not, skip it (or get together for drinks instead).

Your Turn

What types of meetings do you wish to cancel forever?  Under which circumstances do you enjoy a good meeting?

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* If you need a Google Wave invite, I’ve got extra.

3 thoughts on “Want Better Meetings? Know when NOT to meet

  1. Great list — I’m not a meeting person, so I’m always happy to have reasons not to meet! The most memorable meeting I ever went to that should have been cancelled was a mental health board on 9/11/2001. Looking back, we all realized we should not have met, since of course nothing was accomplished. That’s a unique situation, but might be another thought for your list of times not to meet…when something big is happening that people are distracted by.

    • That’s a great point Sandy–I also don’t think it needs to be something huge like 9/11. I don’t think it’s a good idea to meet the day before a holiday break–or Friday afternoon (especially in the summer.)

      The basic idea is you want to meet when everyone can bring their best-selves to the table. If that’s not going to happen, you will likely waste a lot of time.

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