Cancel all your Meetings this Month (or do this if you can’t bear that)

Anyone enjoy that lull in the latter half of December?  That time when meetings start to drop off the calendar, when so many people are taking time off that meetings cease to exist because there’s literally no one to attend them (a bit of a tree falls in the woods scenario at this point)? 

You would think we’d learn, that we’d take a step back and do some philosophical soul searching at this point.  Do we really need all these meetings?  Where did all these meetings come from? 

But no, not only do we keep up the recurring calls of yesteryear, but we pile on top of that and add more meetings, meetings to achieve new objectives part of the new year corporate strategy.

So this January, cancel all your meetings.  As impediments are experienced, build back up the calendar with the mission critical calls needed to be successful. This is likely not feasible. What are we if not a string of back to back meetings to provide status updates on what we accomplish in the twenty minutes of downtime we have?

I imagine by end of Q1 chatter will start up about how there are too many calls on the calendar. Typically felt first by those doing the work, it’s then run up the ranks and layers of management, hoping for change. When this starts to pick up, I suggest managers (or really anyone) take an inventory on the state of the state for their group, long before putting an inevitable and dreaded “meeting on meetings” on the calendar.

“As a manager, one should understand the lay of the land and come to the table with an informed opinion on the state of the state when it comes to the meetings in their org”.

Hearing the feedback that there are too many calls on the calendar and then booking a meeting to discuss this is the lazy way out.  As a manager, one should understand the lay of the land and come to the table with an informed opinion on the state of the state when it comes to the meetings in their org. It takes some effort, but I’ve mapped out some basic assessment criteria that can provide insight into what’s really going on in your org.

This straight forward assessment can honestly be done by anyone. If you host several meetings yourself it can be helpful to understand the components of your meetings and do some analysis on the various elements of your calls.

The Meeting Assessment

Take a week’s worth of meetings you, your team, your org has on the calendar.  Take some time and attend as many as you can and map out the following details across them:

Meeting TitleWhat’s the meeting subject? Can you immediately tell what it’s about at glance?
FacilitatorWho owns the invite and who runs the call?
Who is invited?How many people are invited to this? What is their role? What group are they in?
Who attends?Who actually shows up? What is their role? What group are they in?
Who actively participates?Who is engaged and participating in conversation? Does this include the facilitator?
AgendaIs an agenda included in the invite? What is the format? Is it clear what will be discussed? Are links and files included?
One Off/Recurring?Is this part of a meeting series? How often is it?
What is being shared?Is anything being shared on the screen? What system or format is it in?
Start TimeDid the call start on time? How late was it to begin? Why?
End TimeDid this call end on time? Early? Late? By how much?
Meeting NotesAre there notes? Are they sent out and stored somewhere? Is it clear who has action to take?
Intended PurposeWhat is the intended purpose of this call? Beyond the agenda, what is the impact of this meeting?
Achieved PurposeDoes this meeting accomplish the intended purpose? If not, what are the gaps?

The Takeaways

Is every call starting late (probably)? Is every meeting then going over (possibly)? Are there resources needed for a discussion that fail to attend? Are facilitators inconsistently sending out meeting notes, documenting action items, and ensuring completion? What is being shared? Is one facilitator leveraging one system and another an Excel? Are there more than a dozen individuals sitting on these calls that never say a word? Do any meetings even have an agenda?

The key thing to remember is that there’s no right or wrong answers to the above. Every organization is different, with different needs, different structures, etc. Maybe it’s ok to not have structured agendas across the board, perhaps there’s a large group that needs to listen in but not participate. But you have to collect the data first and make an informed decision with it. Even taking the effort to attend as many as you can could be illuminating enough for you. Your team is in a lot of calls and at the end of the day that will take a hit to productivity.

Are you doing this exercise for your own meetings? This is a great exercise and can empower you to better yourself in an area that is highly visible by many in your company. Key takeaways to take from the above data revolve around consistency. Is there consistency as far as format goes for the calls you’re running? When you can apply the same standards on the fundamentals of your meetings (agenda, document sharing, meeting notes) you develop an auto-pilot like rhythm that allows you to focus on some of the more challenging elements, like driving a productive conversation.

The last two rows in particular are where the honest conversation with yourself will happen. Do you understand the underlying purpose behind this meeting your running? Are you successful in achieving that purpose?

So, cancel those meetings. Or, make a concerted effort to understand what exactly is going on with everyone’s time all day.