There are few things more soul sucking in corporate life than the bane of wasteful meetings.
It’s the kind of meeting where there are just too many participants; many of whom were invited in the name of “engagement” because they were deemed as necessary stakeholders with interests. Or the kind where people show up and provide updates rather than discuss decisions that drive an agenda forward (which makes the meeting extremely vulnerable to folks who feel they need to talk to be heard, rather than having something to say).
This infographic by Elizabeth Grace Saunders, by way of Harvard Business Review, is a helpful tool that I’m going to start sending out as a response to meeting invitations I receive where I’m highly doubtful of its value.
Here are the steps in more detail:
- Have I thought through this situation? When you don’t have clarity about what you’re doing on a project, it’s tempting to schedule a meeting to give you the feeling of progress. But unless the meeting’s intent is to structure the project, at this point, scheduling a meeting is an inefficient use of your time — and your colleagues’. Instead, set aside some time with yourself to do some strategic thinking. During that time you can evaluate the scope of the project, the current status, the potential milestones, and lay out a plan of action for making meaningful progress. Once you’ve completed your own strategic thinking prep work, then you can move onto the next step of considering whether to hold a meeting.
- Do I need outside input to make progress? You may be in the situation where you know what needs to be done, and you simply need to do the work. If you find yourself in this place, don’t schedule a meeting; update your to-do list and take action instead. However, if after clarifying what needs to be done to the best of your ability, you need outside input to answer questions or give feedback before you feel comfortable jumping into action, continue on.
Does moving forward require a real-time conversation? If you need some answers to questions, but they don’t require a two-way conversation, e-mail can be an excellent option in lieu of a meeting. This is particularly true when you’re looking for feedback on your written plans or documents. It’s much more efficient for everyone involved if you send over items that they can look at on their own (while you’re not awkwardly watching them read during an in-person meeting) and then shoot you back feedback. If you feel your situation does require a real-time conversation, then examine different communication channels.
- Does this necessitate a face-to-face meeting? When you need two-way communication but don’t necessarily need to see the person, you have a variety of options. An online chat can help you answer questions quickly, or for more in-depth conversations, scheduling a phone call or video conference can work well. This not only saves you transition time of going to and from a meeting place, but you will more easily able to get stuff done if someone is late, instead of having to sit and wait for them to show up.
- If in the end, you decide that you need face-to-face, in-person communication, then schedule a meeting, and think through in advance how you can make it as efficient and effective as possible. That means considering your intent for the meeting, establishing your desired outcomes, and preparing any materials that you should review or send out in advance.