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Do You Really Need a Meeting? Ask Yourself This One Question

Sarah Schott •  September 6, 2016 | Business and Careers

SchottbOn the day you read this article, 11 million meetings will be held in conference rooms across the United States. An average of nine people will be attending each meeting, and a third of the attendees will find the meeting unproductive.

Are you meeting’d out?

Before you schedule your next meeting, do yourself—and your invitees—a favor. Make sure a meeting is the most efficient and effective way to get what you need and a good use of others’ time.

Start by drafting an agenda; it’ll force you to get clear on what you need to accomplish. And in doing so, you’ll be able to answer the one question everyone should ask him- or herself before scheduling a meeting:

What is the intent of the meeting? Is it to inform, discuss or decide?

If your goal is to inform: In many cases, if your goal is to inform, you can get away with sending an update via email. This is true especially if you’re communicating to an established team in which the roles and expectations are clear and the topic is relatively routine, or if you’re simply informing others about the status of a project or initiative. If you call a meeting under any of those circumstances, people may feel like their time has been wasted. But if you’re planning to inform people about something that will come as a surprise, is bad news or will require them to do something differently, do it in person. Have the meeting. That way, you can deliver your update with the appropriate level of context and help ease people into an understanding of why a decision has been made.

If your goal is to discuss: If your goal is to discuss the pros and cons of a topic—especially if it’s controversial—a meeting is typically the best way to get differences of opinion on the table. But this works only if you have the right people in the room: those who are relevant to the discussion, are willing to share their experiences and opinions and must weigh in. And even if you’ve identified and invited the right people, make sure they show up. If someone who’s critical to the discussion declines the invitation, think about rescheduling. Without that person in the room, others may feel the discussion is a waste of time. Plus, you may have to schedule a follow-up meeting to get the no-show up to speed and give him or her an opportunity to provide input.

If your goal is to decide: If you need each person in your group or on your committee to vote on an issue, you might be inclined to assume you need an in-person meeting. But that’s not always necessary, especially if your team or group has guiding principles and shared expectations and has already discussed the matter. When that’s the case, you might simply send an email that reads, “This is the new information that’s come to light since our meeting. Based on our previous discussions, here’s the decision: (Describe it.) Any objections?”

Term or Permanent Life Insurance: Which Option is Right for You?When you clearly define the goal of the meeting—whether it’s to inform, discuss or decide—you’ll be taking the first step toward making sure you get what you need in the most efficient, effective way possible. And your colleagues will appreciate that you have respected their time. Here are a few other considerations you might find helpful:

  • Think about the gap between where the work stands now and where you want it to be after the meeting. The bigger the gap, the more likely an in-person meeting will be of value.
  • If you’re on a team or committee that meets regularly, you can probably scale back on the frequency of your meetings over time, once everyone gets comfortable with the expectations for the group and the role of each individual. For example, on my leadership team, we’ve evolved from meeting in person for almost everything a couple of years ago to doing more and more by email or through our collaboration website. That works because we’ve established—for each type of issue or decision that needs to be made—who’s responsible for it, who’s accountable to it, who gets consulted about it and who gets informed.
  • One of the best ways to personally avoid scheduling unnecessary meetings is to delegate so people can make decisions without you.

Some meetings will always be necessary. But I’ve found that if you ask yourself the question in advance—Is my goal to inform, discuss or decide?—you might find you don’t need to call a meeting after all. Depending on what you need to accomplish, there may be much more efficient ways to move the work forward. 

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