Good business meetings are essential for getting work done and building the relationships needed for breakthrough results. Too many meetings, however, stifle productivity and quickly burn out team members. Managers have to work earlier and later to take action on what they discussed during the meetings.
Reigning in meetings and creating space for people to do creative and constructive work is an essential leadership skill, especially in this era of hybrid in-person and virtual teams.
Do you have too many meetings? Begin here…
If you’re aware that you have too many meetings, start by looking at your scheduled meetings and asking why you want to meet. Who is it for? What is it for?
Who is it for?
Does this meeting exist to support and empower your team? Is this meeting the most productive use of their time? Is it for your people? Or does this meeting exist, so everyone knows who the boss is?
What is it for?
Are you meeting to help the team get the connections and information they need to succeed? Or are you meeting because it is more convenient or easier for you than using other channels to distribute information or equip your leaders and hold them accountable for cascading information?
You might have too many meetings because you have not asked these two essential questions, and meetings end up serving many purposes they are not built to do well.
As you consider what your meeting is for, focus on prioritization, learning, collaboration, connection, and decision-making. Any one of these (or a combination) is a valuable reason to meet. However, do not use meetings as a substitute for other elements of management and leadership. (You will notice that “control” or “making sure people are working” are not on the list.)
Practical ways to meet less
Design thinking will automatically help you eliminate meetings that are not building relationships or achieving results. Here are some practical ways to have fewer meetings:
Make every meeting count
If you have a meeting to discuss the meeting and then to follow up on the meeting, you can free up time by consolidating. Socialize ideas and provide people with the information they need asynchronously. Then, at the end of every meeting, take a few minutes to ensure everyone knows who is doing what and by when.
Engage your team and ask, “How can we….”
You will find willing thought-partners when you ask your team for their ideas. Use your asynchronous channels to ask, “How can we meet less?” (Please don’t have a meeting about meeting less—it’s unnecessary until you have some concrete ideas to discuss.)
Think first, then Meet
This will help your introverts cut down on the number of meetings and make the meetings you have more productive. Solicit ideas ahead of time. Give people time to think about what might work. They will likely be more creative when on a walk than staring into a computer camera. Once you have collected ideas, establish your success criteria, and then meet to prioritize or decide.
Use asynchronous tools well.
Your chat and project management tools can significantly help everyone’s productivity and help people connect rapidly.
Send someone else
If you are being pulled into many meetings because your team’s input is precious, think about who else on the team might attend the meeting. Then, invest 15 minutes in them to learn what you would be sure to share and what questions you would ask. That 15 minutes will help your team member increase their influence, help your team be more effective, and leverage your time where you most need to use it.