I said what I said. You’re having too many meetings.
I know, I know. How can it be possible? TOO MANY MEETINGS? But it’s true. I know you feel it, especially when you get to the end of the day and realize, “I’ve been in meetings all day! I talked about work, but I didn’t do work.”
The science backs me up on this. According to HBR, meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years. Executives spend nearly 23 hours a week in them, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s.
Meetings Serve A Purpose
Don’t get me wrong: meetings DO serve a valuable purpose. They provide opportunity for collaboration, creativity, and relationship-building. Your team needs see you sometimes (*especially* on Zoom! The opportunities for spontaneous run-ins that help them build relationships so they can advance their careers are practically nil in this pandemic life.)
But too often, you’re having meetings so that you can make sure your team is doing their work. Worse, you’re having poorly-planned and inefficient meetings, so at least part of your meetings are spent going off the rails, talking about unrelated subjects, and getting so far into the weeds that you completely lose the plot…and your precious, precious time ends up wasted.
How to Stop Having So Many Meetings and Make Sure the Meetings You Do Have Are More Useful
This isn’t some pipe dream. You really can have fewer meetings and the meetings that you do have really can be much more productive than they are now. The key comes in trusting your people to do their jobs, thinking a little differently about why you’re having meetings, and going into every meeting well-prepared.
Trust Your People
First and foremost, if you’re hiring people you can’t trust to do their jobs, then you’re hiring the wrong people. Your job as leader isn’t to be a task-master who makes sure the work gets done. Your job as leader is to set the vision for the organization and then let your people do their jobs, while you provide a structure and framework for the work to occur; this is, by the way, where inclusive leadership comes in, though that’s a topic for another day.
As leader, you set the tone. You set the deadlines. You set the culture for developing your team into people who understand that they are part of a bigger whole. You’re not their parent. You’re their leader. Big, big difference.
Only Have Meetings for the Following Reasons
When you have a problem, one of the fastest and easiest ways to solve the problem is to get your people in a room/Zoom and talk about it.
Note: Do not have brainstorming meetings
It’s exceedingly common to hold meetings to brainstorm ideas or solutions. The research indicates that doing so is a pretty bad idea. Individuals can come up with more ideas and more importantly, better ideas, if they do their brainstorming solo. Once you’ve had your team perform brainstorming on their own, they can come together to bounce their best ideas off of each other.
When decisions need to be made, having your team together in one space is a great way to figure out the criteria by which you will make the decisions and then, sometimes, you’ll want them there to make the decisions (yes, the buck ultimately stops with you, but you do need to listen to your team, which is why we have the next category: Forum).
One of the greatest assets of any leader is their ability to listen. I work with my clients all the time on their listening skills – knowing how, when, and why they need to listen to their team. A meeting is a great place to facilitate discussion and feedback with your team. This, by the way, builds trust between you, and allows you to hear their thoughts, so that you can factor their experiences into your decisions.
Having meetings to allow your team to provide feedback and to comment on initiatives, projects, etc. is invaluable.
Additionally, your team needs some face time with you. They need to have opportunities to demonstrate their competence, to network, and yes, to show off a little for you, so that you think of them when promotion time comes around.
While many employees groan about team-building, when it’s done right, it can be incredibly important and effective for your team, building cooperation, reducing conflict, and improving communication. Plus, your team can become much more engaged, which leads to lower turnover rates and higher productivity, among other bottom-line boosting factors.
I once heard a story about a company that told their entire workforce via email that they were downsizing. Can you imagine getting such life-changing news via email? Always, always give your team the courtesy of doing big news and announcements in person.
Obviously, if you’re the Executive Director of a non-profit or a President/Provost/Dean in higher ed, you probably have to have some meetings to schmooze with your Board and your donors. Leave those alone! Those meetings are necessary.
Plan Your Meetings in Advance
Always plan your meetings in advance. How well you prepare for a meeting is exactly how well the meeting will go.
Best practice is to distribute an agenda via email a few days prior to the meeting, so people can prepare for the subjects you’ll be discussing.
I know, I know, I can hear you saying it already: But I wing it all the time and I’m totally fine! Sure you are. Well, that’s why I’m going to recommend an experiment (see below), so you’ll believe me when I say that a) ask your team if your meetings go well, and b) if your meetings go well when you wing it, just imagine how much better they would be if everyone could prepare beforehand.
Conduct an Experiment
I recommend two experiments:
Experiment #1: Cancel Some Meetings
I said what I said! Cancel some meetings next week. This week, if you’re very brave. If you have any meetings that were “check in” meetings, cancel those first. Then cancel the brainstorming meetings. See if the world collapses. I’ll bet it doesn’t.
As a regular practice, before you schedule more meetings, ask yourself, “Is this meeting necessary?” and then, “Okay, why is it necessary?” Make yourself justify every meeting, and be strict about it. Remember, your time is precious. If you’re in meetings that don’t need to happen, you’re wasting valuable time you could be using in more productive ways.
Experiment #2: Plan for Every Meeting
Before you head into your meetings, plan ahead. Create an agenda that includes the purpose/goal of the meeting (what you hope to accomplish in the meeting), what you plan to discuss, and include time codes, so you stay on the path and on-target with your discussions. Distribute the agenda a couple of days before the meeting so that everyone can prepare in advance (and let them know that’s your intention).
Transform the way you think about meetings and you’ll be amazed – not just at how much time you’ll get back, but also at how much more productive and useful your meetings really are.