Anyone who has ever worked in an office knows how crippling it is to productivity to pull your team into a conference room every two hours to give status updates, go over an email that was already sent, or sing happy birthday to a co-worker.
You might be thinking, “What’s the harm in a few 30-minute meetings sprinkled throughout the day? Besides, what are we supposed to do—not communicate?”
We’ll get to the second part below, but as for the harm of a few 30-minute meetings throughout the day, consider this.
A recent Harvard Business Review survey of more than 180 senior managers found the following:
- Sixty-five percent say meetings keep them from completing their own work.
- Seventy-one percent say meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
- Sixty-four percent say meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.
These unproductive meetings are costing the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year.
So who’s responsible for all of these annoying, costly, momentum-derailing meetings?
As a project manager and small business leader, you are the first line of defense between your team’s productivity and unnecessary meetings. But as distracting as they can be at times, some meetings are necessary when circumstances call for them.
Small business leaders and project managers can eliminate some meetings and consolidate others to drastically reduce time wasted sitting in conference rooms, thereby enabling their employees to be more effective.
Here’s a project manager’s guide to running an effective meeting schedule for maximum productivity.
5 questions to ask yourself before planning a meeting
Teams need to communicate, but excessive meetings reduce employee effectiveness, which is critical to small business growth.
To avoid this negative impact, I recommend sitting down and asking yourself the following five questions before adding any meeting to the calendar:
1. Why are we having this meeting?
If you can’t come up with a clear deliverable, such as settling on a key objective or answering a specific question, you shouldn’t be holding the meeting.
If the purpose of the meeting is to make an announcement or to share status updates or field feedback, for example, there are more efficient, less time-consuming methods for reaching those ends, such as sending an email or using project management software to collaborate.
2. Could this meeting be an email?
It takes significant time and coordination to get multiple people into a room or on a video call. On the other hand, it takes mere minutes to send an email that can achieve the same goal.
Here are some common situations in which you should just send an email (or instant message) instead of scheduling a meeting:
- You need feedback from your team. Say you’ve overhauled a project plan or a proposal and you want feedback from your team. What seems more efficient: requesting specific feedback on specific points using a collaboration tool, or sitting around a conference table aimlessly reading through a stack of paper together? Or what if you’re requesting feedback on a recently interviewed candidate? An email survey is perfect for this. Here are 12 free email survey tools to make the process even more painless.
- You need to make a routine announcement. If you’re introducing a new team leader or announcing the departure of a longtime employee, a face-to-face meeting is the stand-up thing to do. But if you’re just announcing a tweak to the company-wide password policy, or the date for the summer picnic, an email is sufficient. If you’re worried about the email being lost in the clutter of an unkempt inbox, ask your team to respond with an acknowledgment email so you know who has read it and who requires follow-up.
- You need status updates from your team members. Twenty years ago, the “what I’m working on this week” sit-down meeting was a staple of office life. It’s as much a chance to sit down over coffee and catch up with colleagues as it is a necessary exchange of information. That’s why the status-update meeting is still a nice-to-have, but it’s far from a necessity. A weekly face-to-face meeting can be the default, but if your team is in a time crunch, just take it to a dedicated channel on your collaboration tool. You can even set up automated reminders.
3. Can these meetings be consolidated?
It’s Sunday night and you’re experiencing a serious case of the Sunday Scaries. In an effort to get out in front of your busy week, you open your calendar and see a dizzying rainbow of blocks strewn across the next five days.
Hopefully, asking yourself why you’re even having some of those meetings and if others could be replaced by emails will thin the crowd a little.
For the rest, try asking yourself which of those meetings could be combined. For example, you have a quick sit down with two project leaders on Monday morning to go over numbers, followed by a check-in with those same managers on Wednesday afternoon to pick a date for an upcoming project kickoff meeting. Why don’t you turn those two 20-minute meetings into one 30-minute meeting?
4. Who needs to be part of this meeting?
As a manager, you may be tempted to think that the more heads you have working on a problem, the more successful you’ll be. There is merit to that approach, but pulling all those heads into a conference room for an hourlong brainstorm is not an effective way to go about it.
In an ideal world, you could have the best input of every member of your organization on every problem.
But that’s why you have collaboration tools and an open-minded office environment where all employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas with management, not more meetings with more people.
And don’t confuse interest in the outcome of a meeting for a reason to be in the meeting. A stakeholder might be very interested in a decision that is made in a meeting, but that doesn’t mean they need to spend an hour of their day as a spectator for the decision-making process. An email saying, “This is what we decided” gets the same job done in a fraction of the time.
Just like in the first question, ask yourself why you’re inviting each individual to a meeting. If you can’t come up with a good answer for someone, give them 30 minutes of their workday back by leaving them off the invite list.
5. How long does this meeting need to be?
Just because you have the conference room reserved for an hour does not mean you need to all sit in there for the full hour. Your team members would rather spend that free time at home with their families and pets and comfortable couches.
I have been in meetings that ran out of steam after 30 to 40 minutes only to sit through awkward stretches of silence for the next 20 minutes waiting for someone to try to find something to say, just because the meeting had been scheduled for an hour.
If you want to add something later, you can always email or message the team with the follow-up. But you can never give them back the 20 minutes you forced them to sit through when they could have been back at their workstation getting actual work done.
How to run an effective meeting
Now that we’ve looked at some ways to pare down your meeting schedule, here are three key guidelines on how to make sure that the meetings you do have run as smoothly and efficiently as possible, from our article on how to manage small-business meetings:
3 tips for managing small-business meetings
What are your tips for running an effective meeting schedule?
What secrets have you found for eradicating meetings and increasing productivity? You owe it to world productivity to share them in the comments, or you can hit me up on Twitter @AndrewJosConrad.