The number of meetings you have will ultimately depend on the type of role you have.
Take Michael. Michael is a manager at an information technology company. His day comprises of meetings. He goes, at the moment by Zoom, from one meeting to the next constantly, sometimes all day. He scratches his head sometimes and wonders whether he even needs to be present. It can be frustrating, particularly if the team are off track. There’s rarely an agenda so the work that needs to be achieved at the meeting takes longer than necessary.
Sally is an accountant. Her main role is to make sure all of the work is completed. She has one meeting each morning with her manager. They map out the work that needs to be done and then they go separately to their desks and achieve the work. It’s a pretty straightforward meeting, running through the files and task lists for the day, and then otherwise getting on with the work.
Rachel manages the personal injury team at a law firm. Her day comprises of a mix of meetings and legal work. She’s responsible for making sure that the team get the work done, but she’s also responsible for her own work. There are some days where she feels like she’s constantly in meetings. The meetings have little direction, and she scratches her head wondering why a meeting had to occur when a matter couldn’t be addressed by email. Rachel understands it’s part of the role. She is the leader of the team after all and the team needs some direction.
Three very different roles. All of them involve meetings.
The key to an effective meeting is to firstly decide whether you need to have a meeting at all. There are benefits to meetings. Take the regular staff or team meeting, for example. Having the ability to get the whole team together in one location perhaps once a week or once a fortnight is great for the team. There still needs to be an agenda and the team need to contribute to the meeting. The benefit of this type of team meeting is more about getting the team together than achieving any work. There might be certain team announcements that are best communicated to the whole team all at once. Those types of communications might be better in person as opposed to an email broadcast.
Meetings for the sake of meetings, however, should be avoided. If you are going to have a meeting, then insist on an agenda and a timeframe.
Knowing what is to be discussed in advance will assist in firstly making sure the goal of the meeting is achieved, particularly if a decision is to be made and secondly, keeping everybody on track in terms of the discussion points.
Limiting the time of the meetings ensures that there is a deadline by which a decision needs to be made. Open-ended meetings are never a good idea.
Putting the team catch ups to one side, Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Work Week*, says that meetings should only be held to make decisions about a predefined situation, not to define the problem. Tim recommends that you ask for an agenda always and define the end time. Tim is mostly against meetings, noting if you absolutely cannot stop a meeting or a call from happening, define the end time. Do not leave these discussions open-ended and keep them short. If things are well-defined, decisions should not take more than 30 minutes. (reference)
If the purpose of the meeting is to obtain team feedback, send the team the question you want to ask in advance. Ask them to consider the issue, make some notes and come to the meeting ready to have a concise, meaningful discussion about the particular issue. Don’t pose the question in the meeting. You will be faced with blank stares and nobody willing to put their hand up and contribute to the discussion.
Elizabeth recently asked her team to reflect on the thing they like most about their job. She sent out an email in advance of the team meeting and then facilitated a discussion with all of the team members contributing because they’d had notice in advance of the question to be asked and were able to contribute effectively. It was a great discussion, by the way, and mostly centred on client interactions.
In recapping, recall these key tips about effective meetings: number one, consider whether you need to have a meeting at all; number two, set an agenda; number three, keep the meeting to a defined timeframe; number four, send out questions in advance if you are seeking feedback.
The next time you find yourself sitting in a meeting and wondering the point of the meeting, consider these and work out a way that you can promote a change with how your organisation manages meetings.
* See more in The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss