Meetings—or at least the benefits they bring—are an important part of working in a team environment. Unfortunately, as businesses and teams grow, the number of meetings tends to also grow, sometimes to the point of becoming unmanageable. Many of these meetings might not even be productive.
Having too many meetings has real consequences for teams and organizations. They can drain employees, destroying their morale and motivation. These meetings leave people with little time to get other, productive tasks done. As a result, they can waste company time and cost money because of the work lost.
Meetings are still necessary for the members of an organization to collaborate and work well together. The key is to not waste people’s time. In this article, you will learn some steps to help reduce the flood of meetings faced by many knowledge workers.
Why You Need to Cancel Some Meetings
Holding too many meetings will exert a collective toll on productivity, focus, and engagement at your organization. When people sacrifice their time and well-being for meetings, they assume they are doing what is best for the business and they may not see the larger costs.
Below are some use cases for why having too many meetings can be detrimental.
Too Much Talking, Not Enough Doing
To be productive, people need uninterrupted periods to stay in deep work mode. Every minute spent in a wasteful meeting takes away from solo work that is essential for creativity and efficiency. Broken-up schedules interrupt deep thinking, so people end up coming to work early, staying late, or using weekends to get some quiet time to concentrate. This is not sustainable and over time will kill creativity. Such a dysfunctional meeting culture can lower organizations’ market share, innovation, and employment stability.
Sometimes employees’ calendars are filled with ceremonial meetings they must attend without understanding their benefit. Being forced to attend unnecessary meetings can result in information overload, as attendees take in details they do not necessarily need to know about to do their jobs. The time spent in those meetings can prevent them from completing their day-to-day responsibilities, causing them to feel they have failed. This in turn can affect their productivity and how well they’re able to collaborate with others. The damage can be far-reaching.
Higher Stress Levels
Meetings are supposed to improve communication and collaboration in an organization. However, too many bad meetings can undermine those same things, adding stress and anxiety to already stressed-out employees. An employee may worry about missing a deadline because she was in meetings most of the week. Another employee may be uncomfortable with giving frequent presentations to his co-workers but be expected to do it anyway. These issues can affect employee happiness at work.
How to Reduce Your Meetings
Meetings at an organization are necessary for collaboration and to reach consensus. They encourage creative thinking and help attendees discover new ideas. You cannot get rid of meetings completely if you want your organization to function well. However, if meeting overload is becoming a problem for your business, you can control it.
Below are suggestions to help reduce your meetings while making them more productive and useful for you and your team.
Require an Agenda
An agenda highlights the purpose of a meeting and helps invited attendees decide whether they need to participate. It can be as brief as a few sentences describing the purpose of the meeting and stating a clear objective. If a meeting doesn’t have a set goal or a need for an action plan, chances are it isn’t necessary.
Ideally, you should create the agenda a few days in advance of the meeting. Share it with the other participants so they can come prepared with talking points, questions, and situations to discuss. This ensures everyone can make the best use of their time during the meeting.
Reserve Meeting-free Time
People are most productive when they have blocks of uninterrupted time to get some deep work done. To achieve this, reserve some meeting-free time on your calendar. Some organizations encourage people to block out focus time so that colleagues know not to interrupt them. Other organizations establish meeting free days so all employees can focus more fully on their work.
People’s brains are not wired to multitask. When workers batch tasks together, they’re able to increase their focus, remove distractions, and stay in the right flow state.
Use Asynchronous Meetings
Synchronous meetings require everyone to be present in real-time, which means all attendees must block out that time simultaneously. This is the case whether the meeting is in person, over the phone, or on Zoom. Asynchronous communication, for instance through email, a messaging app, or a project management tool, allows people to communicate on their own schedule. They can answer or ask questions without fear of being interrupted, and absorb the new information when they’re ready. This method is especially beneficial if your team members are in different time zones or countries.
Make Attendance Optional
One of the biggest complaints about meetings is that attendees don’t get value from them. They can’t contribute meaningfully to the discussion, and they don’t get any insights. When calling a meeting, make sure that only the people who need to be there are invited.
Large meetings are good if the meeting is designed to broadly share information, such as reporting quarterly earnings. But in a planning meeting where decisions need to be made, having fewer people on hand may be better. Otherwise, the discussion could veer too far off topic and accomplish little. Team members who aren’t essential to the meeting should either be left off the invitation or told the meeting is optional. You can send out meeting notes afterward to those who don’t attend.
Present a Video or Email
Rather than taking the time to hold a meeting, you could save time by using a different medium. Informational meetings, for example, are meant to share details about a decision that has already been made. In this case, consider sending a video or email and documenting the information in your company wiki.
Schedule Shorter Meetings
Meetings don’t have to take up the full scheduled time. If you’ve gone through all the talking points and assigned all action items, there’s no need to sit around. Most people are more than happy to leave a meeting earlier than expected. Not every meeting needs to be an hour or even thirty minutes. Experiment with keeping some of your meetings under twenty minutes. This is enough time to be taken seriously, but short enough to maintain people’s attention, and it won’t interfere with your team’s schedule.
Meetings are essential for enabling collaboration, creativity, and innovation. They often foster relationships and ensure proper information exchange. However, excessive meetings are costly and can lead to more problems than benefits for teams and organizations.
At the end of the day, good work practices are about making the best use of everyone’s time. Better use of meetings will result in better work lives for everyone.