Overcoming what I call ‘the meeting syndrome’ is challenging for some companies. I have worked with companies where meetings were scheduled nearly back-to-back and every day of the week with anyone and everyone they could get to attend. Some of these meetings were to discuss important information, such as a new project to be launched, update the business plan, or to brainstorm new ways of bringing in customers. However, my experience has shown that the majority of these meeting are for more insignificant items that would be better handled in a different way, such as meetings twice a week to receive status updates on an ongoing project, to review notifications sent out to the company, or even to go over how a spreadsheet should be structured for an upcoming project.
Creating a change in how the company works will require some time and can be challenging, but it is possible to change the culture to one that is more productive, engaging, and informative.
There are certainly true business needs to hold meetings. Here are five questions to ask to help determine if a meeting is needed, who should attend, when it should be held, and how long it should be.
1: Who is in charge of the meeting? There should always be one person in charge of the meeting. This person should determine how often, where, and whom the meeting should consist of. This person is also in charge of the agenda for the meeting, so if someone has something to add (or take away from) the agenda, they will know who to contact. If an attendee cannot make the meeting he or she will know who to contact to let them know and to receive additional updates from the meeting.
2: Is a meeting truly necessary? There are times when a meeting with the head of every department is not needed. An example of this might be project status updates. Determine if a meeting is truly necessary, or if obtaining and disseminating the status updates could be done via email, calling the appropriate individuals in charge of sending the updates, or even by visiting the offices or cubicles of those individuals to obtain the update. Sending an email with all updates can be an efficient use of time and it would waste less time of the people working on the project, and would lessen the risk of stifling the project progress.
3: Who should be invited to the meeting? Inviting unnecessary people will waste their time, will detract from the meeting as they may be more inclined to do other work during the actual meeting, and will likely not want them to attend your meetings where their presence is really necessary. Within this question, you should also determine who should be required and who should be optional. If you always require everyone to attend, you will likely have low attendance, especially from directors and executives. If you give non-necessary attendees an option to attend if they would like, they will have the option to make that decision on their own (which they like to do anyway).
4: How long should the meeting be? Setting a time limit will help the meeting end on time, will help attendees plan accordingly, and will help ensure the room is available for other meetings on time. Most people have a difficult time sitting in a meeting for more than an hour. If the topics will only take 30 minutes to cover, then schedule a 30 minute meeting, and if all topics are not covered a follow-up email (or meeting, if there must be one) can be expected and scheduled accordingly. If it must be a 2+ hour meeting, ensure there are breaks scheduled to allow attendees to stretch, use the restroom, smoke, or grab a cup of coffee or tea prior to continuing. A 10 minute break is a good length because anything less would result in attendees coming back late and disrupting the meeting.
5: It’s Friday; do I have to go to this meeting? There are times when Friday meetings shouldn’t be held. Personally, I believe that Friday meetings should only be held to go over the week (i.e. sales, production, etc.), should be as short as possible, and should be held in the morning. This will allow required attendees to plan their day, give them time to wrap up projects before the weekend, and give them time to setup meetings or conversations for the following week.
Asking these questions will help determine when, where, and how to hold meetings that are more meaningful to all attendees. Helping to change the habits of the company can be challenging, but leading by example can show others how to plan meetings that benefit all involve.