10 “Don’ts” to a Better Workplace – 1. Don’t Overdo Meetings

“That’s not our job.” “We have to find out who’s responsible!” “He can do that, he’s been here long enough and knows what he’s doing.” These and others are things we’ve likely all heard in our workplace, and too many companies downplay or ignore these situations with attitudes like “It’s just the way it’s always been done”, or “It’d be too difficult to change”. But if companies can embrace change and are willing to make the sacrifices necessary, they can improve productivity and increase employee morale. This is one in a series of 10 changes (in no particular order) that can be implemented toward achieving that goal.

1. Don’t Overdo Meetings

With the (correct) focus on collaboration and teamwork, especially in Agile, it’s easy to confuse collaboration with meetings, but they aren’t the same thing. The truth is, meetings can be an incredibly effective tool when used well, but can be extremely counterproductive when used poorly.

Much has been written on the subject of how to properly conduct meetings, but here are the principles I’ve found most useful:

Be aware that meetings have a cost to productivity above and beyond the length of the meeting itself. Very few people are structured and effective enough to work right up to the start of a meeting and resume work right where they left off immediately after. A good guideline is to assume that every meeting will reduce everyone’s productivity by at least an additional 30 minutes – 15 minutes prior (“I don’t want to start that before the meeting, I’ll just check email.”) and 15 minutes after (post meeting socializing and/or “Now, where was I again?”). Be sure for each attendee that their attendance is worth it.

Make sure everyone invited to the meeting knows, well in advance of the meeting, each of the following items:

  1. The agenda and goal of the meeting.
  2. Why they’re being invited.
  3. What participation in the meeting is expected of them.
  4. What preparation is expected of them (if any).
  5. What the expected outcome of the meeting is.

If you can’t answer each one of these for each attendee, you should strongly consider whether the person is actually needed at the meeting or even whether the meeting should take place at all.

Only invite those necessary to the meeting, and try to only keep people at the meeting as long as they’re needed. For some meetings you’ll have some that need to participate for the entire time and others that are only needed for specific items. Try to set the agenda specific enough so that those who aren’t needed the entire meeting time can either be excused after their part is concluded or can arrive to the meeting at the specific time their participation is needed.

Aggressively facilitate the meeting (or have someone assigned to do it). Unless the specific goal of the meeting is something such as a brainstorming session, don’t let discussions or side-topics derail the agenda. Be assertive in having people delay discussions until after the meeting if necessary, and to shut down off-topic discussions.

And for heaven’s sake, do everything you can to not allow meetings just for someone to get a “feel-good” about project progress. There are very few instances where progress updates can’t be provided through other means, and having people attend meetings where their only input is for a few minutes (if at all) can be a huge drag on productivity.

Meetings can be a very valuable tool for workplace productivity, but they come with a cost and can have a significant negative impact on productivity and morale if not used effectively. Using these tips will create effective, productive meetings that your participants won’t feel are a waste of their time.

Does your workplace hold effective meetings? What are some of the worst instances of meetings you’ve experienced? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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