Is This Meeting Necessary?

Richard was reviewing his schedule recently and realized that he routinely had six or more meetings per day. Some were brief. Some were lengthy. Some were in-person and some were virtual. More and more were hybrid. He wondered, “Are all these meetings really necessary?”

The endless parade of meetings was putting immense stress on Richard. He was working frantically, but felt like he wasn’t getting anything done. It was exhausting. And, as a leader, if Richard was feeling this way, he imagined that his team was suffering at least as much, if not more.

So whenever a meeting popped up on his calendar — or whenever he considered scheduling a meeting himself — Richard set about asking himself a few questions:

1. Does the meeting have a clear objective? Does it clearly help everyone on the team move their deliverables forward? If the answer is no (or it’s vague), take the meeting off the calendar. Check-in meetings where people take turns updating each other (a cynic might say that check-ins are often used to demonstrate that you are hard at work doing hard work) and staff meetings, which some managers use simply to remind the team that they are in charge, might easily be reduced or eliminated altogether.

2. Does the meeting have a written agenda? If not, ask for one. This forces everyone to consider and define what really needs to get done at the meeting — especially the person or team that called the meeting. It’s difficult to create a compelling agenda for a meeting that doesn’t really need to happen. If there’s no agenda, or the agenda is irrelevant to your work, don’t attend.

3. But what if I miss something! What will people think! Ask yourself honestly, “Am I suffering from FOMO?” — Fear Of Missing Out. Often, we accept invitations to attend meetings because we are afraid that our boss or our team will will think that we are not involved and busy. Or we are afraid we’ll miss some piece of information that someone might share. Can you stay engaged with your work and your team in ways that do not require a meeting?

4. Will there be meeting notes? Some meetings feel like the movie Groundhog Day. Didn’t we discuss Jason’s idea four weeks ago? Hasn’t Sharon spent 10 minutes sharing her concerns about our direction at every team meeting over the past three months? Taking notes and sharing a meeting summary with everyone should be a standard part of every meeting’s structure. Not only will notes help everyone avoid the Groundhog Day effect, but, like asking for a written agenda, creating and sharing notes forces people to work through and demonstrate real purpose in their meetings and show that substantive work is being accomplished.

5. Are there other tools or ways to stay in touch that will help you avoid the need for a meeting? Can you touch bases with your team, share information, deliver your work, and ask questions using technology, tools, or other approaches? From a more effective use of email and informal encounters and communication to project management tools and apps like Slack, a lot can get done without everyone gathering together, and going around the room taking turns talking about “what they have been up to.”

6. Are you calling a meeting just to make sure everyone is doing their work? As a leader, there are other quicker and more genuine and motivating ways to do that. If you are concerned about accountability within your team, more meetings will not help. 

Being “busy” with meeting after meeting does not mean that we are being productive. Using the questions above, decline an invitation or take a meeting off your team’s calendar. What happens? Was there any negative response or unexpected outcome? People might even express appreciation! Over time, Richard was able to reduce the number of meetings he was attending and the number of meetings he was calling, while bringing more clarity and focus to the meetings he found important.

And if you must meet, check out these helpful articles from Arden Coaching:

To learn more about developing your leadership skills and sharpening your productivity, contact the executive coaches at Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.