This Could’ve Been an Email: A Cure for the Common Meeting
Monday morning rolls around and here I am, checking my schedule for the week to see what I need to do. I work “40” hours a week (not including all the extra time I put in) and at least 16 of those hours are tied up in meetings. It turns out, this is about the average number of hours folks spend in meetings per week, according to Rogelberg et al. (2007). We spend about 35% of our work week in meetings.
Some of these meetings are necessary to move the work forward but, if we’re honest, some of the meetings we go to aren’t particularly helpful at all. I think there are a number of meeting types that we’ve all experienced. Let’s talk about them for a second.
The “Why are we here?” Meeting: This meeting almost never has an agenda and feels like it’s going in circles. No one is quite sure what the purpose of the meeting is (not even the person who called it). You all just saw the invite in your email, accepted it, and now here you all are, trying to figure out what’s even going on.
The “This could’ve been an email” Meeting: This is the meeting that can be summed up in a 3-sentence email. Instead, we’re all spending an hour going over an announcement 5 different ways while everyone blankly stares and texts someone else across the room about the work they could be doing on right now.
The “Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen” Meeting: This meeting has far too many people in it. It’s a project that needs maybe 5 people to work on it, but it’s a 10-person affair, complete with the presence of a ton of supervisors and managers. Everyone in the room has an opinion, we’ve been in here for 45 minutes, and haven’t solved anything.
The Micromanagement Meeting: This is the one where a micromanager is going through all of your projects piece by piece, dissecting them to see if you did absolutely everything they would do if they were in your position. They’re also going through your calendar, seeing what meetings you have that they want to attend, “just in case.”
The Diplomatic Exchange Meeting: This one is office politics at it’s finest. Everyone speaks very carefully/diplomatically and navigates the subtle nuances and specific culture of your office. You may or may not accomplish anything in this one. The goal here is to make sure we’re not, “stepping on someone’s toes,” or, “playing in someone else’s sandbox.” It’s purely a CYA (aka, cover your…you know) situation.
The Marathon Meeting: This meeting has lasted far beyond its end time. If you look around the room, you’ve lost ALL of the eyes. People are tired, hungry, and have mentally checked out. Not to mention the folks who are anxiously looking at the time because they have another meeting starting soon and they’re still in this one.
Now, before business owners light the torches and break out the pitchforks, I’m not saying all meetings are bad! Meetings are necessary and can be beneficial if done well. That’s really the issue right there; are we conducting meetings well? Employees actually like meetings, so long as they have clear objectives and important information is shared (Allen et al., 2012). Employees start getting upset when the meetings take time from tasks, are unproductive, or lack direction.
So, how do we go about making meetings something we are actually content to attend? We have to tick a few boxes off. Before hitting that calendar invite button, think about these items first:
Everything doesn’t need to be a meeting: Meetings should be called when you have to solve or plan around a problem that requires more than 1 person. You can also call them when there is a major change that you want to give folks an opportunity to ask questions about.
Everyone doesn’t need to be invited to the meeting: Think of the best folks for the discussion/task. Everyone’s manager/supervisor doesn’t need to be present just to be “aware of what’s going on.” That’s what supervision is for. Identify the players that you need and just invite them.
You don’t need to fill a schedule with meetings: People’s schedules don’t need to be heavy with meetings just to look like they’re, “working.” People need time to work on projects, answer emails, complete tasks, etc. Think about the number of meetings folks actually need to have.
Consider how long and frequently you’re meeting: In a meeting, once you get beyond 45 minutes, you’ll start losing eyes and focus. Depending on the subject of the meeting, you may need to meet on a weekly basis. For other projects, it might be every other week or even on a monthly/quarterly basis. Slack has a great chart for time to ideally spend on a meeting.
Come with an agenda/list of attainable tasks: Honestly, I would add the agenda to the meeting invitation so people can take a look at it beforehand. The agenda keeps everyone on task and moves the meeting along. Create a parking lot for ideas/questions that might derail this meeting but definitely need to be discussed at a later date.
Identify the takeaways before leaving and how to check-in on progress: On the way out, make sure we all know what happened and who is responsible for what going forward. Check in with folks about when they think you should meet next and what should be accomplished by then.
Check in with the staff at your organization about meetings: Who would know better about whether or not your meetings are effective than the folks who have to attend? Different organizations need to have different types, frequency, and lengths of meetings to accomplish projects and tasks. Check in with your specific folks so that what you plan matches your specific needs.
We all have to do better with meetings. Let’s use them effectively and keep in mind that we want folks to be passionate and excited about the work they do. Meetings can help us cultivate that fire that drives people to work towards organizational and personal goals.
Allen, J.A., Sands, S.J., Mueller, S.L., Frear, K.A., Mudd, M. & Rogelberd, S.G. (2012). Employees’ feelings about more meetings: An overt analysis and recommendations for improving meetings. Management Research Review, 35(5), pp. 405-418. Article
Fisher, C.M., Amable, T.M., & Pillemer, J. (2021). How to Help: Without Micromanaging. Harvard Business Review. Article
Phillips, J. (2022). How to run effective virtual and in-person meetings. Slack, Article.
Rogelberg, S.G., Scott, C., & Kello, J. (2007). The science and fiction of meetings. MIT Sloan Management Review, 48 (2), p. 16-21. Article