Friday, February 27, 2015

Avoiding Meetings That Waste Your Time

Ribbon: I survived another meeting that should have been an email

Ribbon by Will Bryant, via Mike Monteiro

I’ve sat in my share of meetings that seemed like a waste of time, so this ribbon made me smile. Still, there are some good reasons for having meetings, and David Allen summarized them nicely (PDF):

1. To give or get information. Yes, a lot of routine information could be just as easily (and much more efficiently) shared by email. As someone wrote on, meetings “usually convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute.”

But sometimes the issues involved are sensitive, and communicating though a meeting is more effective than the alternatives. I’ve been in situations where organizations were going though big changes and people were nervous; having plenty of meetings to keep people informed was a big help.

Here’s an example Allen provides:
“Hello everyone. I’ve brought you all together today to let you know what’s been going on about the pending lawsuit. I’d like you to leave here today understanding what’s going on, and with as much background as you need to be able to answer questions that may arise from our customers.”
2. To develop options and make decisions. Getting the right people together is often the most effective way to have these types of discussions.

3. To build relationships through in-person meetings. This is especially useful when a new team is forming.

As I’ve mentioned before, any meeting will be more effective if a well-constructed agenda is provided to meeting participants for their review before the meeting. Sometimes there are documents that should be shared before the meeting, too — and sent out early enough that participants have adequate time to review them.

So how do we avoid the plague of meetings that arent useful? In his talk at TED@State Street Boston, David Grady suggests that part of the problem comes from our tendency to mindlessly accept any meeting invitations we get.
A meeting invitation pops up in your calendar. ... There’s no agenda. There’s no information about why you were invited to the meeting. And yet you accept the meeting invitation, and you go. And when this highly unproductive session is over, you go back to your desk, and you stand at your desk and you say, “Boy, I wish I had those two hours back.”

Every day, we allow our coworkers, who are otherwise very, very nice people, to steal from us. ... I’m talking about time. Your time. In fact, I believe that we are in the middle of a global epidemic of a terrible new illness known as MAS: Mindless Accept Syndrome. The primary symptom of Mindless Accept Syndrome is just accepting a meeting invitation the minute it pops up in your calendar.
Grady suggests that you don’t automatically accept a questionable meeting invitation, but rather get in touch with the meeting organizer to learn more about the meeting and figure out whether it makes sense for you to attend. This might not be acceptable behavior in all organizations, but it’s an idea worth trying if your organization’s culture would support it.

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