Meetings have become a way to reassure ourselves that we are in fact doing something useful and productive, regardless of what actually goes down in the meeting and what we gain out of it. It’s undeniably important that people meet up, become aware of each other’s work and opinions, and weave together for higher-order, more insightful action. However, when meetings flow freely and feel redundant, people are bound to stop paying attention to what is going on and become turned off to each other’s wants and needs. This may even lead to a silo mentality, working isolatedly without sharing information1.
Besides, it is an observed fact that an absurdly high number of meetings don’t lead to useful discussion or work. An interesting real-life phenomenon was developed after observing that groups that have allotted deadlines and meet to finish that work behave in certain common patterns2. It shows that after the initial meetings, workgroups hit a period of stagnation. Initial meetings may be about setting up a framework on how to act and what your roles are in the group, and later stages have actual work being produced effectively. But those in the middle are just empty spaces till the deadline approaches and the group suddenly spurs into greater action with ideas and labor both flowing freely.
So how do we stop this wastage of time and actually have meetings that matter?
Audit your meeting calendar!
Most workplaces, it seems, schedule a weekly meeting of the team, without even thinking if they need one. A regular audit of the meetings is, therefore, quite essential if you want to manage your time better. You will know if your meeting has any value if you can observe 3 things: What is its agenda, what you expect as an outcome out of it, and also how that outcome may be produced. When these are made clear, the interaction will be much more concrete. People will have to listen to each other’s ideas on what can be done, formulate their own responses, and either reach a common conclusion or become aware of the notable points of difference. This information has a lot more value than the one produced by a meeting where people express disconnected opinions without listening to each other and extrapolating overlaps and differences on specific agendas.
For once, do in fact procrastinate!
What are your thoughts on procrastinating? Everything has a use when taken in small manageable measures, so does this! Instead of having a meeting assigned with every team, every week, twice a month, or even every month, let things pile up for a while. Unless it is absolutely necessary, do not make your team have a calendar-marked discussion about it in your conference room! Do that, and after a few weeks, you will have a lot of people with a lot of brimming ideas to either improve on something, get rid of something completely, or have new ideas altogether. Instead of you demanding answers to your questions, this will be a pure brainstorming of concepts that have been shaping up in everyone’s minds. Believe me, some spectacular insights are bound to come from such a meeting!
Reserve one day a week to have no meetings
Whether or not you make an audit on your upcoming meetings or procrastinate all of them by a few months, no less, the least you can do is – have one day each week where you hold zero meetings. Allow your team to work at least a day a week, without any interruption, or the looming anxiety of an upcoming meeting. You can do this by minimizing noise, and interference, and postulating no-work text/phone call times. This can be seen as a kind of break from interactions, reiterating the point mentioned in the beginning about how constant meetings turn people off from actually paying attention to each other and working wonders.
Impact on Leadership
A huge chunk of the problem with wasted time in meetings is that agendas that will bring little value are the ones that take a huge amount of time. Important topics then get overlooked. As this HBR article states2, one global financial company spent more time pondering over the design of their holiday card than the many critical investments they made in Africa in a year.
Meetings spend a lot of time discussing day-to-day operations rather than strategic decisions that can raise the value of the company long term. When people meet with a defined purpose, they spend less time discussing details and more time choosing between viable alternatives and taking real decisions which will start having consequences soon.
Leaders that understand this ballgame of getting the most out of their meetings do not engage in “handing down of information”: it’s less about updating each other with long drawn out presentations and more about discussing what courses of action are there and how they can be taken. Different courses of action are suggested, possible issues are discussed with each course and finally, one is chosen.
How Star leaders set themselves aside from this standard procedure is that they themselves pay attention and also build an environment conducive to paying attention to different energies in the room. Meetings aren’t about one-upping each other or the same dry updates coming in regularly. It’s about listening, observing, and then maybe contributing so that blind spots are covered and everyone is spurred to work based on what they understand the big picture to be.
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3 Immediately Applicable Action Steps
- For every meeting, share a small brief with all the attendees on what the agenda is going to be and what the expected outcome is. Participants should be prepared before they go inside.
- Keep one day which is about relaxation from communication. This means no meetings and postulated times for no work-related texts or calls.
- Label whether the meeting is going to be about daily operations or strategic decisions. Both should be separated and you should have at least 2 of each in a month.
The more you try to have fewer meetings, the more you will allow your teammates to shine through actual work, and the more will you establish yourself as a Star Leader! How do you think the number of meetings taking place at a workplace could be brought down to a balance?