Meeting of minds

Meetings are as common a part of the working day as e-mails and lunch breaks, but just how many are actually necessary?

While they can be great for getting colleagues in the same room to discuss issues and reach a decision about project objectives, some meetings are held simply because they have always taken place at 10am on a Tuesday.

It is for this reason many companies are now doing away with the traditional boardroom session in favour of e-mail or conference-call meetings to make life more convenient for all concerned.

Cali Ressler, co-creator of Results-Only Work Environment and co-author of Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, does not think it has to be that way. "We think about meetings in such an old-fashioned way. When we picture one, we see people sitting around a table in a conference room. But a meeting can also be two text messages that go back and forth between two people. A meeting can be a phone call. A meeting can be a 30-second conversation that takes place in a car park. Meetings are necessary for getting work done, but we need to stop thinking of them in such a traditional manner… and forcing everyone around us to conform to that old thinking," she says.

But if boardrooms really are the only option, here are a few ways to make the most of it.

SET AN AGENDA

An agenda is vital for a productive meeting. By distributing copies beforehand, everyone is aware of the points to be raised and can, therefore, research and plan accordingly, minimising the risk of needing a second session for those not up-to-date. It also helps keep colleagues focused on the issues rather than going off on a tangent.

FINISH IT WHEN THE DISCUSSION IS OVER

There are times when just because a meeting has been scheduled to be organised from 2pm to 4pm, some of those involved insist it goes on for the whole allotted time. But this does not have to be the case, so as soon as the last point has been discussed and resolved, call an end to the session.

Ressler says: "Most computer calendar software requires meetings to be scheduled in 30-minute increments. But just because a calendar says a meeting is 'supposed' to last 30, 60, or 90 minutes, we can't let what the calendar says dictate our lives.

"We need to use common sense, too, so if the outcome of a meeting is reached in 10 minutes, then everyone should leave. There is no point in sitting around to look busy for another 50 minutes – that is wasting both the company's money and employees' lives."

ASK WHETHER IT IS REALLY NECESSARY

Some issues do not need to be discussed in a meeting, but can be just as effective when done via e-mail.

Getting five executives into the same room to discuss company strategy is necessary, but the same cannot always be said of a meeting to discuss where the annual party will be held.

"The first questions you should ask yourself upon receiving a meeting invite are: 1) What is the outcome of this? 2) Do I have a role in reaching the outcome, and am I clear what that role is? and 3) Is a meeting with physical presence the right way to drive our outcome? Could it be reached through a phone call, e-mail, mobile phone texting, or instant messaging, etc? Every meeting really is optional, and it's up to each person to ask these questions to determine the best use of time and a company's, or client's, money," Ressler says.

THINK ABOUT THE LOCATION

Taking employees out of the office for a two-day meeting can be a waste of both time and money.

The training or brainstorming session has to justify the time out and the same can be said of forcing a session at a set time for an issue that can be resolved in five or 10 minutes.

Chatting in the corridor about which company should do the advertising campaign can be just as productive as doing it in a boardroom, yet the informality and quick nature means a decision can be reached more effectively.

 

Planning check 

- Don't let meetings last for more than 90 minutes without a break as people will get bored 

- Meet standing up, that way people will be more conscious of wasting time 

- Fit meetings around work, not the other way around 

- Stick to the point and don't stray off the subject

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