Imagine if the business sector in your country got a free boost of $37 billion for a year.
With an extra $37 billion, there’s no telling what the corporate world could pull off–from nobly reducing poverty to whimsically buying the White House, twice! Instead, that’s approximately the amount US businesses are losing every year to inefficient meetings*. Indeed, time is money, but who knew it’d be 37 billion dollars?
This isn’t to say that meetings are inherently wasteful. In fact, a well-structured meeting can be crucial–enabling collaborative thinking, deeper communication through non-verbal cues and real-time feedback to a degree that an email could never replicate.
This brings us to the million–nay, 37 billion–dollar question: what distinguishes an inefficient meeting from a critical one? We’ve tried to find out.
*per a study done by the European Journal of Work & Organization Psychology
What makes a meeting inefficient?
Taking a cue from the von Trapps, let’s start from the beginning (a very good place to start!)–in this case, the very reason one calls for the meeting. Consider if any of the below hold true:
The purpose isn’t right.
Ask yourself, “Can this meeting be an email?” If the answer is anything except a resounding no, the meeting can go. Chances are, you’ll find yourself avoiding meetings that were being held:
- Out of obligation: If the problem has already been addressed, the meeting is unnecessary–even if it was already in the calendar. It may appear unprofessional to cancel, but in the long run, an hour saved is (at least) a penny earned.
- To uphold routine: This includes weekly updates, monthly one-on-ones, or any routinely held meetings that were set up with good intentions but have since run their course. If the meetings are providing less-than-significant updates on business-as-usual processes, feel free to cancel.
- Prematurely: In some cases, organizers call for meetings to collaborate on problem-solving, which can be great. However, it can be wasteful if they’re seeking out back-up without first trying to solve the problem themselves.
The purpose is right, but it’s unclear.
A meeting can be 100% essential, but end up inefficient if attendees are unclear on the agenda. This robs them of the opportunity to prepare ideas in advance and also means time is wasted on debriefing during the session, instead of before.
Another common symptom of an unclear agenda is when the organizer joins underprepared. They may omit crucial points or squeeze in too many points as a result, ultimately leading to a chaotic session.
The purpose is clear, but there’s no one to enforce it.
Even after doing the groundwork, an organizer may lose hold on a meeting if he doesn’t invite someone to lead the session. Conversations will digress into work-related tangents, or even unrelated small-talk that leads to productive-looking calendars but no substantial output.
Cleaning out your calendar
Once we’ve identified the problem areas in our schedules comes the fun part of the exercise: cleaning it all up! By the end of it, hopefully our calendars will have a lot more white space–which, as the best designers will remind us, isn’t wasted space. On the contrary, it’s a powerful tool to ensure the canvas (i.e. your time) is used effectively.
With cleaner calendars, we can make the meetings we do hold more and more effective. When doing so, keep the following in mind:
Meet for the right reasons
Good reasons to hold a meeting include:
- One-on-one feedback: These sessions can be used to deliver crucial feedback that might be misunderstood over Slack or email, using the non-verbal cues that a face-to-face conversation allows. This practice helps personalize the relationship beyond the mechanical back and forth of emails we’re all accustomed to. Of course, this isn’t to say that the feedback needs to always be constructive–a one-on-one session is also a great opportunity to compliment a job well done.
- Collaborative thinking on select projects: So long as it isn’t overused, a meeting can be a great way to harness the collective energy of a group. A well-structured brainstorm can lead to creation and feedbacking of new ideas that may not have been conceived by an individual.
- Project introduction: The process can also serve to get the team excited about specific projects, which can ultimately lead to proactive efforts.
Focus on time management
Once a meeting has been scheduled, look at it through the lens of time and frequency. The standard meeting time of an hour may not be necessary–feel free to play around with 25-minute, 45-minute, or whatever-time-you-really-need-minute sessions.
Similarly, the standard weekly update meetings may not be essential for every company. If a bi-weekly update seems enough, be like Nike and just do it! The pending updates can be put up on Slack, internal newsletter or any other portal you might prefer.
Consider roles & responsibilities
Before hitting the “send to all” button, ask yourself: does everyone in my team really need to attend? If two people out of the four can solve a problem, let the other two solve another. You can always seek updates from both groups after!
Also, be sure to allot roles to everyone involved–someone to conduct, someone to take minutes, someone to follow up after. This will ensure clarity, flow and most importantly, accountability.
Plan well in advance
One of the best practices you can initiate is to debrief everyone via Google Doc or email before the meeting even begins. A quick 5-minute skim through a document will get attendees thinking before they join the Zoom room. This will also give you a starting point for the meeting, a proposal of sorts, which attendees can then react to.
It can also be useful to lay out a clear schedule for your meeting–yes, a schedule within your schedule, schedception! A basic template might include 5 minutes to recap context & set goals, 15 minutes to question & change the proposal, and another 5 to finalize next steps and divide responsibilities.
Time to get started!
If the ideas listed above resonated with you, then congratulations. You now have an action plan going forward, and you can literally start today! Feel free to circulate this material among your team members and even get on Zoom to discuss the meeting plan going forward (a great reason to meet!)
Whether we end up collectively saving $37 billion or not, we’ll have saved loads of time–which in the end, is priceless.