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Women at Work: Meetings too often are worthless

Once a month I attend a board meeting comprised of 12 members who all have different responsibilities tying to a very large project currently underway.

About half of this board's members are leading a subcommittee and report back our accomplishments monthly. As our project gathers steam, the meetings have become more productive, thankfully.

However, there has been an occasional meeting where I want to hang my head and just adjourn. Meetings without accomplishments, without driving the project forward or without meaning are pointless, useless and a waste of time.

Sound familiar? I recently had a reader slide me a note that said, "Column idea: meetings that do not need to happen face-to-face and could have been handled via email or phone." Nowadays we all are so busy that pointless, time-wasting meetings lead to less productive days and some serious frustration. Like, bang-your-head on the wall frustration.

Somehow work teams have fallen into a habit of having and attending meetings, some have multiple meetings in a day, and are not getting any actual work done. Truth be told -- everyone suffers through these meetings silently cussing yet no one does anything to change things.

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Businesses are losing tons of money annually while their employees sit in meetings that did not need to happen.

On the flip side, there are many business owners that make money by holding meetings, such as lawyers or consultants. It would seem natural to those in that position to just meet face-to-face with their clients, but really, are those meetings necessary as well? Could some of them be handled rather quickly with a phone call or a couple emails back and forth?

Let's face it -- wasting each other's time to avoid getting work done from all aspects is becoming rather popular. I recently read an article by Jason Shah on rethinking "unnecessary meetings" and want to share the helpful hints, as he puts them. I know myself, and he may be a little more eloquent than I. If you recall from a couple of my very first columns, I hate time wasters and poor time management.

• Be cautious of recurring meetings:We all love to set goals for ourselves. In the corporate meeting world, this means bimonthly recurring meetings. You should only hold meetings when you have a clear objective in mind. Ask yourself what exactly you want to accomplish in this meeting, and write it down in one sentence. If the objective is the same or similar to last week's, perhaps you can do without it.

• Have an idea of the agenda beforehand:Everyone has to prepare for meetings. Instead of coming into a meeting only to find out the updates were the same as last week, send out a collaborative meeting agenda for everyone to fill out. A collaborative meeting agenda will give you an idea of what to expect from people under each of your major discussion points. You may discover that you don't need a meeting after all.

• Let people know about changes:Know the difference between canceling and rescheduling a meeting. Rescheduling can annoy people, but canceling meetings likely will make your team happier. If a meeting is not happening, let people know that you still will be following up on their deliverables with a few bullet-point reminders from a previous week's meeting notes. Your team will thank you for freeing up time so they can be more productive elsewhere. In the same sense, your clients also will be thankful and remain satisfied if they are not getting charged for something they felt was no necessary.

• Shift the culture of meetings:Meetings often are seen as a time and place to "discuss," when in reality, it should be a time and place to set goals, make decisions and assign tasks for follow-ups. Consider a meeting minutes tool that forces you to do these specific actions. Set up an agenda beforehand, decide on outcomes during the meeting and assign actions items for the future.

• Raise the bar:Distance makes the heart grow fonder. The best part about killing unnecessary meetings is your team will raise the bar for remaining productive ones. Less face time with you means they'll have to be more concise and have fewer excuses for delays in deliverables.

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If you are a team leader, a manager or a meeting scheduler, adopting these tips will lead to a happier, healthier and more productive team.

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