How And Why To Reduce Meetings

Many traditional organizations love meetings. And for the most part, I’m not sure why. A majority of meetings are exercises in futility where nothing truly productive gets done. In the TV show The Office meetings are used as an ongoing joke where branch manager Michael Scott calls them for every arbitrary reason he can conjure.

Sadly, this isn’t too far off from reality. Even if the subjects of meetings in the real world aren’t as comical, the actual levels of productivity are. The solution to this problem is simple: have fewer meetings and make the ones you do have efficient.

The obvious reasons to have fewer meetings include the fact that they monopolize the time of your group and eat into hours where real productive work gets done.  Everyone knows that. But meetings can actually be worse than that for reasons most don’t even consider.

Before I offer a few ways to make meetings more efficient, let’s run through some less-considered reasons to cut down on meetings in the first place:

Excessive meetings frustrate your A-list, ultra-productive employees

Meetings may be doing more harm than the surface issue of wasting your team’s time. As if that isn’t bad enough, meetings may actively be frustrating your A-list employees. This frustration harms their productivity and also causes them to look at leaders as the type who don’t really understand their passion. Even worse, if your organization engages in frequent meetings without a real function, you may suffer attrition of your smartest team members. They may simply not want to waste their talents listening to management teams talking to hear their own voice.  The A-list wants to change things for the better, not sit around hearing lectures.

For a majority of decision-making, having meeting is absurd

To be competitive in digital marketing, your team needs to be empowered and agile enough to make most decisions on their own after initial planning phases. If you can’t trust your team members to do this, it’s time to get a new team. If you’re low on the organizational hierarchy but know what you’re doing just start making decisions on your own – always ask forgiveness, not permission. The truth is any company worth working for rewards risk, even if you fail.  Failure is always an option, and organizations who don’t embrace this for their marketing won’t have a prayer to compete digitally.  If you have to have a meeting before making even tiny decisions – get out, now. There are better places to work.

Meetings actually make you appear like an aging organization

By having excessive meetings to get things done you’re telling a different story to investors, clients or partners vs. doing something like organizing the group in a project management system to structure the flow of work. Remember, all your actions define how your organization is perceived.

Excessive meetings are a sign you have the wrong team

This isn’t really in the “reasons to stop having meetings category” but it’s something to think about. If you have to constantly meet with your team on issues you may have the wrong team. Especially if those meetings are constantly to train existing team members on things the rest of your team (and/or the rest of the industry) just gets. You should have a team that’s interested in keeping their marketing/PR skills razor sharp because it is something they have a passion for.  Don’t tell me this is “pie in the sky,” that’s the answer of someone who refuses to realize their org may require radical changes.

Meetings, in many cases, spawn busy work

Due to the unproductive nature of meetings, many managers will feel a need to assign multiple tasks to team members during the meeting so they feel like something productive comes from the meeting.  But these off the cuff tasks and ideas are usually not well fleshed out or thoughtfully considered. They are usually just busy work stemming from the fact that people aren’t meeting for a productive reason in the first place. This isn’t always the case but can be with the wrong management team.

Solutions:

  • Foster an open, friction-free environment where team members can access each other if buy-in is necessary on something. No need to gather the whole team all the time, encourage the people who need to work together to do so.
  • Ask forgiveness, not permission – most decisions can likely just be made on your own.  If your team forces you to meet on every little thing, build up the necessary trust to get out of this.  Good managers always appreciate team members who take initiative so long as they have a rationale for what they’ve done.
  • Have a standing time already on the agenda daily or weekly where everyone gets a limited amount of time to discuss items they need to go through with the team. Hold team members to this time, no one gets to run over.
  • Ensure all meetings have a clear agenda with specific items, and don’t add additional items to the agenda. Stay focused, accomplish what needs to be done, and move on.
  • Don’t feel as if you have to use a full hour or half hour blocked off. If you schedule an hour meeting but finish in 40 minutes, give the rest of the team back 20 minutes of their day.  Also don’t be afraid to schedule shorter meetings.
  • Use a project management system like Basecamp to organize your company – you’d be surprised how much can get done in a good project management tool instead of both meetings and emails.
  • Don’t bring excessive people to a meeting, it’s the equivalent of CC’ing a bunch of other team members on an email who don’t really have an action here.  Your team’s time is valuable, treat it as such.
  • Setup a shared calendar and make sure everyone is using it and it’s up to date.  This let’s you see just how much time your team is spending in meetings (plus stay organized). Work to cut down on excessive amounts of time any team member spends in meetings (unless they are on the account team and that’s their job).

What are some of your solutions to reduce meetings?

image credit: John Denver via Shutterstock