Please stop the useless meetings

Please stop the useless meetings

Ever so slowly many workers are returning from summer holidays, ready to start stirring the soup that is our bubbling national economy. And despite this long period of rest and reflection (an insane amount of uninterrupted vacation in Sweden I know) we are again heading into a repetitive chain of productivity killing time blocks that induce headaches at merely the mention of the word we use to describe this energy thief. Yes, my friends, I am talking about… meetings.

Like a virus the meeting sickness has spread in our organizations over the past years. The symptoms seem to be the same everywhere: bad preparations, wrong attendees, no documentation and a growing anxiety over all the work we get less and less time to perform.

End this. Start talking about it. For real.

Spread the message! Hang this poster outside your conference rooms =) Based on a 9gag poster (origin unknown)

Here are 5 things to consider before calling to your next meeting

  1. Solve the problem before a meeting is needed. Create better premises for everyone having access to relevant information, and knowing who knows what, without the need for meetings. And if it can be solved with a stand-up meeting in less than five minutes at someones desk, do that.
  2. Never call to a ”general” meeting. Call to a work meeting to solve Problem X. Don’t try and solve more than three things at once. Preferably only one. Go for short, efficient meetings rather than everlasting stone crusher sittings.
  3. Clarify the part everyone plays. Anna is here to contribute with A. Bo and Cecilia are here to hear about B. And David will take notes and share these. The rest of you: keep working, we got this. It’s very much okay, and actually really valuable if everyone knows the meeting is taking place and why. Transparency is important to follow up and assure the quality of meetings.
  4. Respect people’s time and abilities. If you’ve set a time block, stick to it. If the problem hasn’t been solved, decide together when you continue. Water must be on the table if the meeting is longer than 30 minutes. If it is longer than an hour, break and provide fruit.
  5. Document on a half-page — in Sweden we go for A4 but Letter-size is okay too ;). The important decisions and discussions should be  available and easily grasped by those not in the meeting. If they need more they should be able to turn to the person in charge of the meeting (if you call the meeting you answer to it). Place this documentation in an open space on the intranet. This contributes to quality assurance, minimizes duplicate work and creates a context for all employees. A half-page is something like 600 words. If you have a meeting without sharing the documentation, the chances are pretty good that was a useless meeting.
  6. Bonus tip. With regards to information meetings: Sometimes we have assemblies to announce or explain something. Unfortunately few information responsibles master the skills of explaining and like to hide behind a text on the intranet that few read and often is too detailed. I truly recommend The Art of Explanation to get a head start. These information meetings are important, but if they are held without the information reaching through to the recipients they can be dangerous for an organization.

So, what steps do you take to host meetings that bring value rather than just steal time?

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