Project Management

Meetings Are (Usually) Just Not Worth the Time!

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Categories: communication


Have you ever been in a meeting and you’ve thought “What am I doing here, I could be doing real work?”.

 

Of course you have, we all have. So, what do we persist with attending meetings when we know they probably aren’t the best way to get work done?

 

Imagine if you had to prepare a business case to have a meeting. You know, outline the expected costs and benefits and only get approval if the benefits outweighed the costs. Maybe that’s what we should be doing because if you want to add up the charge out rates of everyone in a meeting you probably aren’t getting any change out of thousands of dollars an hour. We accept this waste as a normal way of doing business but I bet if you asked for permission to get a thousand dollars cash from the companies bank accounts and flush it down the toilet you would get a solid “no” answer.

 

Don’t get me wrong, meetings can be a useful way to get decisions made, or collaborate on important issues, or spread information. But they usually aren’t.

 

Here are some tips to get real value from a meeting (please add yours to the list):

 

  1. First, ask yourself why you need a meeting and if a meeting is the best way to get the work done. Can it be dealt with by an email, a phone call, an intranet post, or a coffee? If you do decide a meeting is the most efficient way to get the work done, then tell people this. I start every meeting I run by clearly stating what the purpose of the meeting is, and what success looks like.  
  2. If you have a regular weekly meeting scheduled for your team, ask yourself if its really needed this week. Don’t keep having regular meetings just because they are in your calendar. And please don’t be the kind of team leader who gets each member of their team to provide a quick verbal update to the rest of the team if you have received written reports containing the same information. This really annoys me but it’s surprising how common it is.
  3. Then choose the right amount of time for the meeting. How did human evolution end up where 3600 seconds (60 minutes) is somehow miraculously the right amount of time to hold a meeting for. Why not 47.3 minutes, or 67.18 minutes, or 3.142 minutes?? Don’t feel obligated to take up all the time reserved. In fact, nothing makes me happier than saying to people “I’m going to give you back 18 minutes of your day”.
  4. Set a day and time that suits everyone you need to be there. No point having half a meeting if some people can’t make it.
  5. Start on time. If the meeting invite says the meeting starts at 10am, start it at 10am on the dot. If someone turns up at 10:01am just record their attendance and write “late” beside their name. This may seem picky but once you add up someone turning up 1 minute late, and someone else being 3 minutes late, and someone else being 4 minutes late, you’ve probably waited for up to 10% of the allocated meeting time. Let people know your meetings start on time.
  6. Only invite the people for the time they need to be there. If someone is number 3 on the agenda then let them know they can turn up 15 minutes after the meeting starts, and they can leave when they have done their part – or stay on if they are interested. In fact, anyone should be free to leave a meeting if their contribution is not needed.
  7. All documentation supplied before the meeting should be taken as read. Nothing wastes time more than someone who hasn’t read the documents or insists on going through them at the meeting.
  8. Don’t let two, or three, people have a conversation that they should have before or after the meeting. Don’t let the loud people talk over the quiet ones. Don’t let people dominate the meeting. Make sure people stay focussed, and ask them not to be checking emails etc. In fact if they are they probably don’t need to be at the meeting anyway. Actively solicit contributions from everyone there or otherwise you just get the extroverts talking.
  9. Finish on time. If the meeting is due to finish at 11am and its 10:50am, and you can see you won’t get through everything then let people know that you will still finishing on time and you will follow up with people to get the remaining work done.
  10. Record really good minutes and action points and distribute them quickly, and make sure you follow up with people before any future scheduled meeting.

 

 

As I said at the beginning, meetings can be a useful tool to get decisions made, or work done, but they usually aren’t. Start questioning those meeting invitations, and being brave enough to decline them – simply explain to people that you are focussed on delivering value to the organisation and the meeting isn’t the best way for you to achieve that. And if people persist in sending out meeting invitations ask to see the business case for the meeting :)

 

What are your tips for a good meeting?

Posted on: December 11, 2023 03:35 PM | Permalink

Comments (21)

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Hemlata Tiwari Delivery Manager (Benefits Application)| American Express New Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Nice Summarisation

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Markus Kopko, PMP Principal Project Management Consultant| Karer Consulting AG Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
Dear Sean,

Your insights on the true value and efficiency of meetings in a project management context are spot-on. The idea of approaching meetings with the same scrutiny as any other business investment, weighing their costs against their potential benefits, is a compelling one. Let's explore your tips and add a few more:

Purpose and Necessity of the Meeting: Assessing whether a meeting is the most effective way to achieve your objectives is crucial. Exploring alternatives like emails, phone calls, or informal discussions can often save time and be more productive. Starting every meeting by clearly stating its purpose and what success looks like is an excellent practice.

Evaluate Regular Meetings: Regular meetings should not be held just for the sake of routine. Evaluating their necessity on a case-by-case basis can prevent unnecessary time consumption. Avoiding redundancy, especially when information has already been communicated in written reports, is key.

Optimize Meeting Duration: Questioning the default one-hour meeting norm and tailoring the length of the meeting to its actual content can be more respectful of everyone's time. Ending meetings early when possible is always appreciated.

Scheduling and Punctuality: Scheduling meetings at a time that suits all key participants and starting on time are essential practices. This respects everyone’s time and sets a precedent for punctuality and efficiency.

Selective Participation: Inviting participants only for the relevant parts of the meeting can save their time and keep the meeting focused. Allowing people to leave once their part is over can prevent unnecessary time spent in the meeting.

Preparation: Ensuring all documentation is read and understood before the meeting can significantly reduce meeting time. Discouraging rehashing of the material during the meeting itself is important for efficiency.

Controlled Discussion: Facilitating the meeting to prevent side conversations, domination by a few individuals, and ensuring everyone’s voice is heard is crucial. Encouraging participation from quieter members can provide valuable insights that might otherwise be missed.

Timely Conclusion: Concluding the meeting on time and determining how unfinished items will be addressed respects participants' time and keeps the meeting focused and efficient.

Effective Minutes and Follow-up: Taking concise minutes and promptly distributing them helps keep track of decisions and action items. Ensuring follow-up on these items before the next meeting is crucial for continuous progress.

In addition to these, here are a couple more tips:

Setting Clear Objectives: Define what needs to be accomplished by the end of the meeting. This helps keep the meeting on track and ensures it is result-oriented.

No Multitasking: Encouraging attendees to refrain from multitasking during the meeting can ensure better engagement and productivity.

Your approach to rethinking meetings is a practical and necessary step towards more efficient project management. Meetings should be tools for decision-making and collaboration, not just routine gatherings.

What are your strategies for ensuring that meetings are productive and efficient? How do you handle situations where meetings seem unavoidable but are likely to be unproductive? Your experiences and additional tips would be invaluable for those looking to optimize their meeting practices.

BR,

Markus

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Kwiyuh Michael Wepngong Financial Management Specialist | US Peace Corps / Cameroon Yaounde, Centre, Cameroon
Thanks

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Phyllisia Taylor Technical Incident Manager| Carnival Cruise Miami Gardens, Fl, USA
Create and share your meeting agenda in your meeting invite. This gives invited participants an idea of what will be discussed during the meeting. It also provides them an opportunity to
1. prepare for the meeting
2. request to add or remove items from the agenda
3. provide deliverables before the meeting

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Mohamed Refaei United Arab Emirates
Nicely written, Sean!

However, the business environment and its culture are inevitable factors that dictate the need for and effectiveness of the meeting. I find myself victim to attending unuseful and waste-of-time meetings just to have them as requested by the top management. How can you turn such a request down or excuse yourself without offending the people with big guns?!

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Sultan Almutairi Jeddah, 02, Saudi Arabia
thanks

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Emily Reese Director, External Manufacturing Operations| Abbott Nutrition New Albany, Oh, USA
So spot on... I wish I could get others to follow your advice!

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Eric Smith Senior Project Manager| Atkins Columbia, Md, USA
This is the best and most useful article I've read in quite a while.
Thank you for this.

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Kristi Cummings Project Manager| TeamHealth Dandridge, Tn, USA
Excellent article, thank you for sharing it!

I have a question on this statement: "And please don’t be the kind of team leader who gets each member of their team to provide a quick verbal update to the rest of the team if you have received written reports containing the same information."

I often find verbal updates valuable, as a form of osmotic communication, not for the leader but specifically for the rest of the team to hear, to keep everyone on the same page. Do you think they're acceptable if they're quick enough and you save questions for later, or what do you prefer in their place? Thanks again!

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Sean Whitaker Project Management Consultant| Crystal Consulting Christchurch, New Zealand
Kristi, you are double handling information. One of those methods isn’t working effectively.

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Hany George Alx, Egypt
Thanks

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Ranette Carlson Adams County Brighton, Co, USA
Fantastic article! I will implement more of these ideas. I already do the start on time rule, it shows people that I respect their time. And I agree with the giving project updates that the entire team doesn't need to hear, or hear again. Thank you for a great article.

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Aaron Porter IT Project Manager| Blade HQ Pleasant Grove, Ut, USA
Addendum to #9:
Give the attendees the ability to decide whether to:

1) end the meeting on time and follow up with individuals separately, as needed
2) end the meeting on time and schedule a new meeting to continue the conversation
3) extend the meeting until the conversation is concluded

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Ming Yeung Compliance Manager| Blockchain Venture Capital Inc. Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Thank you for sharing the article with fellow incumbent and aspiring practitioners in this timely topic. And meetings are (usually) just not worth the time!

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Abdelfadil Mostafa Abdelfadil Mohammed Dubai, Du, United Arab Emirates
Thanks

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sangeeta sinha Pune, Maharashtra, India
Very nice summary of good and value added meetings.

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Antonio Villarruel Project Management Coordinator| Saputo Inc. San Fernando, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Thanks for this insight

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Satish Ramanarayanan Project Manager| RBC Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Nice read, thank you.

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Muath AlSaleh Alhasa, 04, Saudi Arabia
Nice tips to guide a meeting.

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Danny Seow Tokyo, Japan
Balancing flexibility while staying focused on something that brings value in the meeting is important.

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