Meetings – A Necessary Evil

Meetings - A Necessary Evil

Meetings are seriously the worst. There’s nothing worse than being forced to spend your time on a call or in a room covering the same content you did last week. I struggle to understand why organisations, managers and teams schedule meeting after meeting when none of us really want or need to be there.

The way I see it, a meeting should be a last resort. They should only be held in serious situations or when it will be the most effective way of communicating and collaborating.

Not all meetings are bad of course. In fact, I actually have a pretty fantastic “meeting experience” at work compared to most people I know.

My Positive Meeting Experience

My team and I are remote workers, we don’t have designated desks at work because we either work from home or are on the road daily. As such, our team meetings are actually quite invaluable. Not only do they allow us to see each other in person but they also allow us to, as a team, discuss any issues we’ve been hitting while out on site. We also only hold these meetings every two weeks. Any more than that is just a waste of time. Not enough time has passed in one week to make holding an hour long meeting worthwhile.

I like to think we do things well in that regard. We work on many projects together doing customer installations, removals, break fix jobs etc. What we don’t do is schedule a meeting for every, single planning point – that’s what email is for. It’s a far better use of our time. In many cases we won’t need an immediate response on something so sending an email and receiving a reply 6 hours later is perfectly fine.

The beauty of my role also means I’m booked in on a customer site at random times throughout the day so it’s quite hard to lock me in for a meeting. (Woohoo!!) I can’t count how many times I’ve had people try to book me in for a meeting I just don’t need to be at, where I’ve been able to say, “Sorry! At a customer site that day, can’t do it!”. One of the perks of the job!

 

Not Always so Lucky

There’s a reason I specifically dislike meetings. Without getting into specifics, a few years back I worked a project where the project manager insisted on weekly meetings to get our individual updates. I honestly could not think of a worse way to spend 30 minutes. The meeting consisted of us all dialing in, sitting and waiting for our name to be called so we could ramble off our latest update.

This was a slow moving project, updates didn’t really happen on a weekly basis so most of the time there was nothing to say. It’s also worth noting that this information was already collated in a tool that the project manager had access to. It was actually quite sad now that I think about it. Not one, single person wanted to be on that call yet we were all forced to be there.

I bet that sounds familiar if you work in any sort of an office!

 

Why?!

I always asked myself why! Do they seriously have nothing better to do?!

The answer is probably not! Unfortunately, I’ve found a lot of the “serial meeting schedulers” are insecure in their roles and feel holding meetings increases their presence and contribution.

The scenario above is a perfect example. On occasion the meeting was canceled so we were asked to email in our updates. In not so many words, the project manager had effectively said “the meeting is capable of being replaced by an email”. Given all we did was provide an update verbally and the PM would record it down on their end, I’m 100% right. We rarely discussed anything else. We also had a project team email alias that we could email if we did have anything else to ask anyway. The meeting was completely redundant.

It’s my opinion that people who hold unnecessary meetings just don’t understand the value of our (and their own) time.

If you were to put a dollar value on your time, (just take your hourly wage as an example), the time wasted in meetings is suddenly expensive. I have a workmate who mentioned he was stuck on a 4 hour conference call. FOUR HOURS! Is it really worth spending (4 x $wage) on a conference call? I can’t imagine any situation requiring four hours of your time on the phone.

Think of the things we could be getting done in the time we spend in meetings. How many meetings do you attend a week? Add up the average time spent and imagine the quality work you could have completed if you weren’t distracted by the meeting. I hate when I’m in the zone, working away at a great pace, only to be distracted by a meeting reminder pop up. By the time the meeting is done, my mojo is gone.

 

What can we do About it?

Say no for starters! It may seem blunt but I seriously think that if the meeting is unimportant you should be able to say no. You have your schedule, your designated work and your commitments. You alone know the value you’ll receive or add to a meeting. If you’re not going to provide any value then say no and skim the meeting minutes later.

If your boss is the one asking for the meetings, a great idea I read in The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss is to be diplomatic and explain to your manager why it’s a better use of your time to not attend the meeting. List what you’ve got going on and explain that spending an hour in the meeting won’t be as effective as you knuckling down on the work. Of course, don’t completely shrug off the meeting either, simply say that you’ll speak with workmate X and catch up later. Try just offer this as a temporary trial to your manager, it’s unlikely they’ll think you’re being unreasonable!

A tip I’ve learned is to ensure there’s a solid meeting agenda. Don’t just go to a meeting with a generic overview of what it’ll be about. If someone tries to schedule you in, ask them for a specific agenda first. Not only does this keep the meeting to the point (and thus, short) but it also means you can come prepared. A meeting without an agenda may as well just be a chat in a coffee shop. It could go on for hours!

Another great tip is to take a notebook with you and note down the key points discussed from the meeting. Ensure that at the end of the meeting, clear actionable tasks have been defined. I can’t stress that enough! It makes it all such a waste of time to come out of a meeting with nothing decided or planned. Send out the meeting minutes yourself if you have to, making sure to highlight the action items for each individual. Include a due date. A due date will keep people accountable for work and increase the likelihood of change prior to the next meeting. If items have been completed then the next meeting won’t be such a waste of time.

 

Meetings – A Necessary Evil

I don’t think we’ll ever do away with meetings. Managers and colleagues will continue to call them, whether it be to feel important or just because they don’t realise there are better ways of doing things. There will always be something we can do about it though!

Value your time more and start saying no. And if you’re a serial meeting scheduler yourself, do us all a favour and really think about whether a meeting is the best use of everyone’s time before you send that invite!

 

Do you have a story about ridiculous meetings you’ve been required to attend? Entertain me by leaving a comment below!

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