Dear manager, you need to change your meetings?

by | 14 Sep 23

A few years ago, I worked in a role where I managed a service with 200+ staff, and I loved it. The job was great, the people were brilliant, and I had a real sense of purpose.

So why did I leave? The short answer is the number of internal meetings was totally unmanageable. I had an SLT above me who wanted constant verbal updates before their meetings. We had pre-meetings, about pre-meetings, about meetings (no Joke). I moved on, and that was that, but I did learn some valuable lessons.

In my new role, I spend a lot of time in conversations (yes, meetings, but external ones) and a common theme has started to come through: too many internal meetings are impacting negatively on people’s performance, morale and well-being.

 Advantages and disadvantages of meetings

Meetings in the workplace are a topic that causes controversy. Some hate them, and others believe they are necessary for successful teams.

There are some advantages:

  • Opportunity to problem solve together
  • Ability to make everyone feel included
  • Time to get everyone aligned about a topic
  • Some people find them relaxing compared to doing independent work (I’d say that’s actually a disadvantage)

There are also some clear disadvantages:

  • Meetings take a lot of time away from being productive
  • People are invited to meetings when they aren’t needed there
  • The loudest people in the room can dominate the conversation
  • Unless takeaways are written down after, decisions made in the meeting aren’t recorded

Different types of meetings

Despite all the different types of meeting names and titles, there are typically two types of meetings:

  • Decision meetings
  • Update meetings

What is a decision meeting?

Simply put, decision meetings are where everyone involved (leaders, managers, team members, stakeholders, etc.) has a discussion and comes to a conclusion by collaborating together.

What is an update meeting?

For most, update meetings are the reason they hate meetings. They are rarely necessary and almost certainly result in most attendees feeling bored and unproductive. There are a few reasons for this:

Updates are better in writing

Nobody wants to sit through status updates after status updates, and when they are shared, they can easily get lost when everyone isn’t paying attention or attendees don’t retain every detail that was shared. Instead, status updates should be shared in writing each week, and the meeting should be focused on discussing the most important issues that were raised in the updates.

Everyone wants to talk more than listen

Update meetings are spent passively listening to other people talk. While being a good listener is a noble trait, many people would rather speak and engage. The result is a group of very bored, disengaged people zoning out.

Everyone would rather consume information on their own terms

Getting teams to submit a weekly status update every Friday, to be read prior to a weekly meeting, lets each team member consume that information on their own terms whenever they have downtime. An update meeting dictates that NOW is the time that everyone must absorb these details.

Everyone is busy with their own priorities

In update meetings, often, only a fraction of the content is relevant to each participant. That means the majority of people are listening to updates that aren’t important to them. They have their own priorities they’d rather be focusing on. This is a key disadvantage of meetings: they unnecessarily waste people’s time.

Managers and high performers want to hold the team accountable

Update meetings mean you cannot easily hold team members accountable for delivering on what they commit to during the meeting. If it’s not written down, you can’t measure it. This is another reason why weekly written updates are far more effective than meetings.

Indicators that you’re having too many meetings

No Agenda

When done right, meetings are an opportunity to share ideas and new developments. They help you arrive at actionable points that can improve your business operations as a whole. However, you can start running into problems when meetings start to lack purpose or organisation. This is why holding meetings without a concrete agenda is a tell-tale sign that you may be having too many of them.

Before holding a meeting, be sure to set expectations and the key takeaways that people should walk away with after the meeting. If you can’t do either of these things, an email may do. This alternative will help avoid wasting people’s time and company resources.

Lectures not meetings

Meetings are supposed to be collaborative. If you find yourself lecturing instead of facilitating dialogue, then maybe there wasn’t a need to call a meeting in the first place.

Furthermore, one-sided meetings can also indicate an even bigger problem. It could mean that your employees and team members are disengaged and have all turned into yes people. Both of these signs indicate an issue and should be addressed accordingly. Keep this in mind during your next meeting.

No actions

Ideas are merely ideas if none of them are implemented. One of the main purposes of a meeting should be to arrive at actionable points that will lead to the overall development of your team and, by extension, the company as a whole.

This is why it’s vital to ensure that meetings end with actionable items and specific deadlines. Meetings lacking this component could have been streamlined and fit into an email or a quick huddle. Not having actionable items for your meetings is a clear sign that they’re probably unnecessary.

Negative effects of having too many meetings

Loss of time and resources

Time is money. While some meetings are necessary, some of them aren’t and can be a waste of time and resources. If you calculate the cost of every person participating in the meeting from both a time and resources standpoint, your business will undoubtedly hold fewer meetings. This is without factoring in opportunity cost, as the time your employees spend in a meeting is time they could have spent working on something else.

Loss of productivity

As stated above, too many meetings can mean your employees are spending time there instead of working on other things. This is why another obvious downside to having too many meetings is the loss of productivity.

How to avoid having too many meetings

Set ‘No Meeting’ days

An easy way to lessen the number of meetings is to empower staff and team members to assign no meeting days in their calendars. Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz implemented “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which is precisely what it sounds like. Once a week, there is a company-wide ban on meetings. This technique helps boost productivity, as employees and managers have one day in their schedule when they can work uninterrupted. This also gives both employees and managers time to settle any issues before calling for a meeting, which will undoubtedly reduce the number of unnecessary meetings.

Require agendas for meetings

While technology makes it easy to set meetings via Slack, Teams or Google Calendar, it doesn’t mean you should schedule meetings for every small issue or concern. One way to filter through unnecessary meetings is by requiring an agenda before a meeting is set. Doing this ensures that a meeting is organised, as the purpose and expected outcome are all set before it even begins. This means there will be fewer unnecessary meetings while also making the meetings that push through more focused and productive.

Things I’ve learned along the way

  1. Meetings are essential for enabling collaboration, creativity, and fostering relationships. But having too many meetings kills productivity, drains morale, and generates stress and frustration.
  2. Shorter meetings are better, and you don’t have to take up the full scheduled time. Cap meetings at a maximum of an hour, and if you’ve gone through all the talking points and assigned all action items, there’s no need to sit around.
  3. Secure people’s diary space. I used to implement a rule that meant no one scheduled or attended a meeting if it finished after 3 p.m. on a Friday. People closed their weeks out, didn’t take work home, and morale increased.
  4. Implement a three-strikes rule. Another idea I implemented in a previous role (the same one). I told all my team that if they attended a recurring meeting three times on the trot and didn’t contribute or gain anything, they stop attending and insist that in future, they only attend when an agenda item requires them to.

Conclusion

There are many advantages and disadvantages of meetings, and the best approach is to focus on these two takeaways, in general:

  • Discussion and decision-making meetings are GREAT
  • Update meetings are BAD, do the updates in writing instead

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