“People go to work, and they’re basically trading in their work day for a series of “work moments” — that’s what happens at the office. You don’t have a work day anymore. You have work moments. It’s like the front door of the office is like a Cuisinart, and you walk in and your day is shredded to bits, because you have 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there, and something else happens, you’re pulled off your work, then you have 20 minutes, then it’s lunch, then you have something else to do … Then you’ve got 15 minutes, and someone pulls you aside and asks you a question, and before you know it, it’s 5 p.m., and you look back on the day, and you realize that you didn’t get anything done.”Jason Fried, Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work
In his TED Talk, Why work doesn’t happen at work, Jason Fried discusses that managers and meetings (M&M’s) are the leading cause of loss of productivity at work. We all have those days we dread, those days that we know we will not accomplish anything, because it is full of M&M’s. Maybe we show up early to try to get a few things done before the meeting marathon commences. Or maybe we tell the family we will be home late because we know our to-do list will only grow as we navigate the days M&M’s. We spend our work moments preparing ourselves, mentally and physically, for the next round instead of accomplishing productive work. We dread the words “Let’s have a meeting about [insert topic].”
As leaders within an organization we must appreciate that meetings are a necessary evil. Balancing our need to hold meetings with our understanding of how these meetings impact productivity is a fine art that everyone can improve on. Below are a couple ways that we can accomplish our need to meet without creating unnecessary M&M’s.
Meeting or email?
One of the first questions we need to ask ourselves when scheduling a meeting is what the purpose of the meeting is. Too often we hold meetings simply because it is part of our weekly schedule, our “Battle Rhythm.”
If a meeting is regularly scheduled, but does not add value, clarity, or support to those in attendance we need to reconsider the necessity of the meeting. I have one meeting each week that I attend that is absolutely dreadful and adds no value, yet we still hold the meeting each week. At this particular meeting each person has an opportunity to discuss any pressing matters that the group needs to be aware of, which normally consists of half the group saying, verbatim, “Nothing for the group” and the other half rambling about something that only applies to them. This meeting takes up one hour each week, with 15 people attending, cost the organization 15 man-hours without adding any value.
Before hitting the send button on your next meeting invitation ask yourself this question: Could this meeting be replaced by a phone call or email?
If the purpose of a meeting is for one person to communicate an idea, guidance, or thought to a group, without requiring any collaboration or discussion, the answer to that question is likely – YES!
Emails require significantly less time to produce, distribute, and read then holding a meeting. An added benefit of sending information out via email, rather than in person, is that everyone reading the email has a chance to consider what it says and articulate questions in a concise manner rather than trying to comprehend the information and develop questions on the spot. Additionally, it is likely that any new information will spawn questions after the meeting that will be sent via email anyway.
Utilize a Design Thinking Model
This article, posted on Harvard Business Review’s website, demonstrates how to utilize the design thinking model to create a better meeting environment. This is a fresh approach to planning meetings that places the meeting customer, the attendee, as the focal point, rather than the manager. In short, this approach recommends the following:
1) Focus on the people attending the meeting before building your agenda. Asking these questions will help shape the rest of your creation:
- Who will be attending and what do they need from this meeting?
- Who is not attending and how will they be affected by this meeting?
- What is the current mood and feeling within the organization and challenges or issues are we dealing with?
2) Define success for the meeting.
- How should people feel after the meeting?
- What do you want people to know after the meeting?
- What do you want people to do after the meeting?
Asking these questions helps you establish plan the meeting to meet the desired results. Without knowing what you want to achieve it is impossible to create an effective meeting to meet those goals.
3) Build the agenda
Too often this step is overlooked, or pieced together last minute. Many facilitators of meetings will build an agenda simply to match their mental map of topics they want to cover without considering inputs from other attendees.
Add some creativity to your agenda to meet the needs of those in the room and enable your desired results. Meetings do not have to be a cookie-cutter, sit around a conference table and talk. Add flair to encourage participation.
While meetings can be a major productivity killer, well developed meetings can prove to be beneficial for all attendee’s. For some tips and tricks on how to be a better attendee at a meeting see this post by Clarissa Pharr.
If you find yourself in a position to call meetings, remember to consider the value the meeting will have, if done properly, and consider alternatives that do not strangle momentum of your team or organization. Some meetings can not be avoided, but that doesn’t mean they all have to be miserable!