We have meetings. We even have meetings to plan meetings. I constantly drill people to ask questions before they write something. But then again, most people don't like to write unnecessarily. Turns out, meetings need even more preperatory questions than a document, in most cases. Lots of people, apparently, love to call meetings necessary or not. Many also like to sit in meetings. I am not talking about customer meetings. That's a whole science on its own. I just mean the usual meetings that have become a staple in the corporate world.
So what should you ask yourself before scheduling that next conference?
1. Is this meeting really necessary?
This is really another way of asking what is the purpose of the meeting. Meetings ought to be for a reason. The best meetings make a decision. Some times there are other reasons, of course, but an excuse like "it was scheduled" isn't a good explanation.
2. Is this meeting just a lazy document?
One bad reason I often see to excuse a meeting is to inform people. You can't avoid covering some information in a meeting but if you are spending more than 20℅ of the agenda presenting information, consider a document like a memo or an email. They are durable, can reach more people effectively, and serve as their own record.
3. Who is needed at this meeting?
Meetings cost money and anyone sitting in a meeting unnecessarily just increases the cost. It is also ineffective to have a meeting without all the right people. I often consider any meeting where I am in the same room with my deputy as a failure, for example.
4. Does everyone know what is expected for this meeting?
Ever have a meeting and then needed to have another one so people can be prepared? Not only should you be prepared, but you should make sure key participants know what is expected before the meeting.
5. Is the meeting set for the right amount of time?
It is tempting to jam as much as you can in an hour. But you need to realistically plan the agenda. If people leave part way through it destroys the meeting's effectiveness (if it doesn't, then you didn't answer question 3 properly).
6. Is the meeting too long?
The flip side to jamming too much in too little time is the penchant for having long "death march" meetings. This is a form of confusing busy for productivity. It sounds great to tell management, "We reviewed this for 9 hours today!" But I promise you the material reviewed in hour 8 does not get the same quality of scrutiny that the material in hour 1 got. I've said before: Less isn't more (and more isn't more), just enough is more.
7. What are the meeting deliverable?
You wouldn't start a project without a clear deliverable. A meeting should be no different. Meetings that make decisions desperately need an accessible, meaningful record of what was decided. Not all meetings are about decisions (although I think the best ones are) but no matter what, you must know ahead of time what it is you are delivering. This is yet another form of asking what is the meeting's purpose. Besides, working on a common document or a diagram or other solid deliverable can be a great way to focus a meeting and get participants to--well--participate.
In short, ruthlessly cancel meetings. Especially those that don't have a well-defined purpose. Make sure everyone knows why you've called the meeting and vigorously enforce staying on topic. How many times have you seen a meeting where someone wants to know if there are any problems turn into a "brag" session of status? Aggressively cut the invitee list and enforce that too. If people complain they need to know the outcome of the meeting, invite them to view the minutes or other deliverable you will generate.
Al Williams is director, information technology (networking & cybersecurity) at Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, LP. This article was originally posted on his LinkedIn page.