Is the Best Meeting a Cancelled Meeting?

One of the best clicks I ever get to make is on the “remove from calendar” button in a cancelled meeting notice. Clearing unnecessary meetings from my calendar fills my heart with joy and makes my feet want to skip through meadows full of wildflowers and butterflies. I know I am not alone in this.

So why do our calendars continue to be clogged with meetings, many of which are likely to suck the wind completely out of our sails? I don’t think meeting organizers purposefully set out to grind productivity to a halt. Instead, I think most of us have bad meeting habits we need to shake. Over time, we’ve learned to equate meetings with agreement and progress when the opposite outcomes are often the case.

Looking back over a month of meetings, I discovered that the common ingredient in the worst of them was their very existence. It’s likely that many of the meetings currently on your calendar aren’t really necessary. They’re meetings born from habit, not from need. How can you tell the good meetings from the bad? Here are some common signs you’re about to attend (or invite people to) a bad-habit meeting:

  • It’s a recurring, weekly meeting that often requires you to solicit topic ideas from the invitees.

Standing meetings aren’t all bad, but weekly is probably too often. Try biweekly, monthly, or as-needed instead.

  • You’re in a new role that not everyone understands so you call meetings to help you prove your value to the organization.

It’s natural to get meeting-crazy when you’re in a new or unfamiliar situation. Prove your value by delivering results, not by trying to justify your value in unnecessary meetings.

  • You need to put someone in charge of an initiative and you know your decision will cause hard feelings, so you get all the interested parties together in hopes they’ll come to the same conclusion as you did.

Bite the bullet and announce your decision via email, allowing people time to process the news in their own way. There always will be differing opinions. But everyone is better off having a clear understanding of who’s in charge of what, and being able to react to your decision in private.

  • People report to you, which means that you must have regular team meetings. Right?

Not necessarily. Unless you have something you need to discuss or decide as a team, the best gift you can give your team are days free of unnecessary status meetings. If you typically are doing most of the talking during the meetings you call, you probably could cut the number in half by sending email updates that your team members can read at their convenience.

  • You’re frustrated that half the people in your meetings are blatantly multi-tasking, but you hold the meetings anyway.

If many people in your organization view meetings as a good time to clean up their in-boxes, one or more of these realities needs to be addressed:

      • You’re trying to do too much at once and need to cut your priority list down to an achievable size.
      • For some reason, you are overly reliant on consensus decision-making and need to break this pattern by sending out more decision announcements than meeting requests.
      • You need a “laptops closed during meetings” rule at your company.

Recently at my company – in response to pleas that we have too many meetings – we implemented No Meeting Tuesday. Of course, this means that Mondays and Wednesdays are filled with back-to-back meetings. Sigh.

The only way to stop the glut of meetings is each of us taking action. When you realize you’re in a meeting that doesn’t have a clear objective or is comprised of too many or not the right people, you need to say something…and then politely exit. When you get meeting requests that you can’t fit into your days or weeks without multi-tasking, you need to politely decline. Every time you’re drafting a meeting invitation, you need to review the guidelines above, and then happily delete it without saving or sending.

And one last thing you should do while you’re thinking of it – go to your calendar and examine the recurring meetings you’ve scheduled. Can half of these be cancelled? Think of all the joy (and tiptoes through the metaphorical tulips) you will bring to your grateful co-workers!

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