Before you read this post, please take a minute to pickup Andy Grove’s High Output Management book. You won’t regret it.
Meetings have a notorious history of being net negative to majority of people involved. Studies have even been done to show that over 50% of manager’s time is dedicated to meetings. Many would argue that spending more than 25% of your time in meetings is a sign of disorganization / lack of direction. However more and more managers are saying that they think 30% or more of the meetings they are in is a waste of time. What people don’t realize is that they are using meetings wrong. Meetings are the medium for doing managerial work. Let’s dissect that a bit:
Meetings are for two things: process & information.
You are either meeting to follow a process / set of procedures to do business with or you are meeting to share information with your working groups.
Let’s take a software engineering example here.
Process meetings are typically how your team operates. You might have daily standups, bi-monthly sprint planning & review, and synchronous code reviews throughout.
Information meetings are typically how your team gains insight into operating in the future. You might have industry reviews, mission updates, team updates, and more.
So if you have a good understanding that meetings can be categorized into two main categories, you might still think that meetings are largely not very useful. I’d totally agree and tell you why.
Meetings primarily benefit managers because they are the medium for which decisions are made. If you aren’t contributing to the decision making process, you’d likely feel like they are a huge time-sink.
When meetings are organized & ran well, they are worthwhile. They typically result in a decision & action item to follow up on. Ask yourself when was the last meeting you had where a clear decision & action item was defined?
And no, your decision to meet more and action item of scheduling more meetings does not count.
Rather I propose that you think about meetings differently. Instead of jumping straight into scheduling a meeting because it’s “process” or “information”, go through these questions to make sure you need to meet in the first place.
- What is the goal of the meeting if we held one?
- Can a decision & action items be made asynchronously?
- Are the right people involved?
- Do I have the attention of the people involved?
- When does a decision need to be made?
- Do we have consensus of a decision already?
- Are people supportive of the decision made?
The following framework below will help you understand what stage you’re in. Sometimes discussion needs to happen to be able to make a decision. Sometimes you’ve diverged your choices & now need to converge to a clear decision. Sometimes you don’t have consensus on the clear decision & need to establish support.
With these questions fresh in mind, if for any reason a meeting is actually a better use of time for any of the three purposes above (Discussion, Deciding, Supporting), use the answers to the questions above as a means to do a service to those who will be joining the meeting. You should make it clear that this meeting was a last resort & that there is an intended goal & outcome of the meeting. Your goal is to convince someone that their time is better spent in this meeting than something they’d rather be doing. This is a feat in itself, but largely people will appreciate that you did this service while respecting their attention and time.