Is This Meeting Really Necessary?

23 10 2009

Cheating the Meeting Reaper: Avoiding Death by Meeting I

It’s a universal experience: sitting in a meeting, wondering when it will end, and too polite to just leave. Of course, that’s just putting it mildly. For most of us, there comes a time when we are mentally screaming, “Get me out of here!”

If we’ve all had this experience, why are there still meetings like that? I contend it’s because nobody has taught the leaders how to run a meeting, and participants how to participate.  It’s not their fault if they’ve never been given the right tools! So herewith I start a quick overview of meeting management. Feel free to add your own thoughts. Subsequent posts will include input from several sources, including my own experience on both sides of the gavel.

So let’s cover:

  • Do you need a meeting?
  • Who should be at the meeting?
  • Building and timing an agenda.
  • Prepping the participants.
  • Managing the meeting.
  • After the Meeting.

First of all, do you really need a meeting? That’s right, meeting management implies that you’re having a meeting. So the very first question should be, ‘is this meeting necessary?’ Every meeting should have some purpose that will move your organization forward in some way. Make sure you are clear on the purpose of the meeting, and make sure that every participant knows that purpose. Otherwise, why take your staff away from other work?

There are 3 main reasons for calling a meeting:

  • Inform
  • Discuss
  • Decide

Inform: Many people say meetings should not be held just to keep people informed. I disagree. If important information has to be internalized, emails are just not enough. Paradoxically, this is particularly true in an information rich environment. When everyone receives 60+ emails a day ‘just FYI,’ something has to be done to make truly important information stand out. If there is information that you need everyone to hear and understand, a quick meeting is a good way to convey its importance.

Discuss: If you have an issue that needs the input and reactions of several people, it’s most efficient to get everyone together. Distribute the data and concerns via email, then follow it up with a working meeting. We each have our own best ways of taking in information and processing an issue.  Straight email correspondence just doesn’t convey the nuances of people’s reactions. We’ll cover how to follow up this meeting at a later time, but right now, let’s just say that this is a good reason to have a meeting.

Decide: If several people have to buy-in to a decision, then it’s important that they have the opportunity to participate in the process. This is a good time for a meeting. Decisionmaking meetings should follow information and/or discussion meetings, and may sometimes be conducted in the same session. However, it’s important there be enough time for everyone to digest the information before being asked to make a decision.

Add up the hourly rate of everyone at a meeting, and consider what you’ve spent by bringing them together.  Now consider how much you’ve lost if it wasn’t necessary. If you don’t have a concrete reason that is important to the organization, don’t meet!

Note – My colleague, Susan Sherk, and I will be presenting Cheating the Meeting Reaper at the 47th annual international conference of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, April 2010. Join us!

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One response

23 10 2009
Project Management Hut

Susan,

This is a good article. There are lots of (Project) Managers out there who hold meetings just for the sake of it, without taking into consideration that such meetings are a waste of time and can lead to discussions that might hinder progress.

An important decision to make is who is going to be on the meeting.

I have published a similar article on the meeting efficiency, hope you’ll get chance to read it.

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