I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.
Have you ever been sitting in a meeting and wondered to yourself, “Why am I sitting here right now?” I can’t be the only one.
How many useless meetings have you attended at work? Too many to count? When I was an employee, I had my share of pointless meetings. Sometimes, they were standing meetings that occurred the same day and time every week. At one of my former companies, we had such a meeting with another company from which we were licensing technology. Sometimes, absolutely nothing had changed from the previous meeting. Nothing. But we still had the meeting – no matter what. I’d have to stop whatever I was doing, go to one of the conference rooms, and huddle around a conference phone just to hear on the other end of the line that nothing had changed. Great use of time I say.
Seriously, though, how many meetings could be replaced with an email? Or just walking over to someone’s desk and having a conversation? People who call meetings often do so to spread around risk and, more importantly, blame. Especially in a toxic company culture, people will find reasons to assign blame to someone else; meetings are the perfect venue. “I couldn’t do my part because Brian didn’t get me the data in time.” Sound familiar? Brian is always lagging!
Other meetings I’ve attended didn’t have an agenda. Agendas are SO important. They keep meetings on task. Without an agenda, meetings can go off the rails. It is also difficult to prepare for a meeting that does not have an agenda. I’m an introvert, so I don’t typically talk extemporaneously. I like to think before I say anything. With an agenda, I can prepare so that I speak intelligently at the meeting. Without an agenda, I’m like a trapeze artist flying without a net – apt to say something I shouldn’t…
Action items from meetings are as important as the agenda. Do the meeting attendees know what they’re responsible for after the meeting? At my first job, I was in a meeting with my boss and a senior scientist. The senior scientist said that it’d be nice for someone to clean the biological hood. A day or two later, the senior scientist asked me if I had cleaned the biological hood yet. I said I had not; I didn’t know that it was my responsibility. She stormed off in a huff. Turns out “it’d be nice to have the biological hood cleaned” meant “Neil, clean the biological hood.” If there were action items after the meeting, it would have been clear to me that I was expected to clean the biological hood.
Before calling for a meeting, really think about whether the meeting is necessary, or if another mode of communication would be more effective (email, face to face conversation, etc.). If a meeting is necessary, have an agenda and distribute it before the meeting. People have no excuse to come to a meeting unprepared if they received an agenda beforehand. Finally, always have action items and confirm who is responsible for the action items. Neil is tasked with cleaning the biological hood by the next meeting, and Neil was told of that task? Neil better clean that hood!