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When Meetings Are Bad for the Company

October 28, 2009 16 comments

I had a colleague in Germany who once told me, “If I didn’t have to go to a lot of these meetings, I’d enjoy my work more.” We probably had a lot of meetings – maybe too much – with them.

Internal discussion, status meetings, presentations, weekly update, checkpoints —you name it; they are all types of internal collaboration, otherwise called meetings. Internal collaboration is almost generally viewed as good for a company. Leaders regularly challenge us to collaborate, to talk to different departments, and chat with counterparts in different business units and work together in cross-unit teams. Where do we end up? Typically, swamped by information overload, spending more than 50% of our time in meetings and spending 20% preparing for it. Contrary to popular opinion, you indeed can have too much of a good thing. 

MeetingI am not saying meetings are bad.  Not at all.  It is a time-tested tool for communication and assistance for employees in aligning activities to desired goals. It is vital for projects and operations. In leading a team or department, I hold meetings periodically (and sometimes more than necessary). It is essential to functioning teams. There is simply no substitute for a good meeting. Meetings, working with teams and collaborating across organizational boundaries can create tremendous value. 

However, conventional wisdom rests on the false assumption that the more employees meet and collaborate, the better off the organization will be. The fact is, too many meetings can easily undermine productivity and performance. 

Knowing when (and when not) to meet 

There is an existing rule of thumb for this; I certainly don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Let me cite what effectivemeetings.com has to say on this subject. I got this from the article, Six Tips for more Effective Meetings. You will be surprised with tip number one: Don’t meet!.  

Avoid a meeting if the same information could be covered in a memo, e-mail or brief report. One of the keys to having more effective meetings is differentiating between the need for one-way information dissemination and two-way information sharing. To disseminate information you can use a variety of other communication media, such as sending an e-mail or posting the information on your company’s intranet. If you want to be certain you have delivered the right message, you can schedule a meeting to simply answer questions about the information you have sent. By remembering to ask yourself, “Is a meeting the best way to handle this?” you’ll cut down on wasted meeting time and restore your group’s belief that the meetings they attend are necessary. “

What’s a good meeting? 

You know when you’re attending one. There is a good reason to meet in the first place. The purpose, agenda and timeframe are clear. The participants are prepared and there is some degree of skilled facilitation. It is important to have someone who can keep participants focused on the goal in mind and can navigate issues so that the meeting can be effective. In good meetings you always leave with clear action items. 

Managers who emphasize the benefits of meeting are right. But they should temper those that do it excessively. It is a mistake to underestimate the equivalent time and cost the company spends in meetings. We should approach holding meetings as a group value-creating endeavor. Although getting together to collaborate is imperative to a working environment, the challenge is not to cultivate more and more meetings. Rather, it’s to develop the right meetings so we can achieve objectives and goals otherwise not possible when we work alone.

Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.

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