Why are so many meetings on our calendars?
How often do meetings add to our productivity? Do the daily stand-ups, check-in's and weekly departmental meetings keep us on track? Is the meeting host the only beneficiary of a gathering?
Some of my observations about meetings are:
- Great meetings result in decisions -or- collaboration. There are few great meetings.
- The mindset of a great host is to add value for attendees. There are few great hosts.
- Most meeting requests block more minutes on the calendar than are needed.
- Rarely do the host or the attendees adequately prepare for meetings.
- Business meetings are an accepted substitute for actual work.
I'm not saying all meetings are terrible. I'm a co-founder of a co-working venture (workzones) that provides on-demand meeting rooms--so I do believe meetings are an important and necessary business function or we wouldn't offer that service at workzones.
Unfortunately, meetings often reduce time available to actually get productive tasks accomplished. How much time? Potentially, the equivalent of at least one day per week! Software company Atlassian published an infographic citing a wasted 31 hours per month per employee on meetings. And it could be worse: Harvard Business Review published a study claiming the rippling time-suck effect a weekly executive committee meeting had on others within a large organization amounted to 300,000 hours per year.
The issue isn't limited to behemoth corporate workers. Solopreneurs, consultants, coaches and small business owners are often subjected to the same meeting challenges as a cubicle dweller. Meetings are requested and scheduled without a clear goal or objective. Upon receipt of a calendar invite to attend a meeting, I try to question if I'm a required resource to facilitate a decision or to share knowledge. Ideally, I also consider whether the format of a meeting is a better method of communication than alternatives.
For various reasons, we still get stuck attending, and even hosting, meetings that are likely to suck. We just can't decline or get out of it. The next goal is reducing the excessive amount of time allocated to these meetings. I have a friend, an executive, that beautifully navigates required meetings to ensure his personal productivity is not hampered too much. Here's what he does:
- Shows up late. If a meeting is an hour, he arrives 10-12 minutes after the start time. Always. His absence typically contributes to the delayed commencement of the meeting, but is not the only cause of the slow beginning. He knows that the first 20% of a meeting is not high-value. The initial socializing may be pleasant, but it's not productive.
- Leaves early. He doesn't announce it - but he does this so consistently that his peers (and even those senior to him) know to get to topics that require his participation early.
- He always asks "What are we trying to accomplish here?" and if he's not satisfied that his participation is needed -- he will typically supply a short summary of his opinion or knowledge -- and he's out.
I have another friend that leverages meetings to do other tasks. Essentially this friend is a multi-tasker that considers a standing weekly meeting her hour to knock-out email and check off ToDo's. She's not so inattentive that she does not participate at all. Instead, she clearly demonstrates that her presence, as a resource, is only needed a few minutes of the scheduled hour.
Both of my friends spend less time "meeting" and more time "doing" what they deem productive. It's a good approach to prioritizing their time--a life skill we should all aspire to master.