How to Know if a Meeting Is Worthwhile Before Scheduling it
No one likes being bogged down with meetings. Here are some tips to ensure they're worth your time.
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Do you feel a shiver down your spine when you hear the word “meeting”?
If you dread meetings, you aren’t alone. Common complaints about meetings are that they happen too often, they’re too long, and they don’t successfully address problems. In short, they’re not worthwhile.
Meetings are often unproductive because there is no preparation, no discussion and no agenda. This leads to people getting distracted. They may do other work, use their phones, or just daydream. You might have even caught someone nappin!
On the other hand, meetings can be great if you manage to accomplish your goals. Well-designed meetings can lead to better teamwork, increased productivity, and better result. However, it’s important to know whether a meeting will be worth it before you schedule it.
Your business may use customer service programs to streamline customer communications, yet you probably pay little attention to streamlining your internal communications. Here are some questions that you can ask yourself before scheduling a meeting to determine if it will be worthwhile.
Who Is Attending?
A meeting won’t be worthwhile if it is irrelevant to certain people, or if key people are missing. For instance, there is no need to invite a sales lead if you are meeting to discuss development updates for a virtual assistant chatbot. Equally, if a key decision-maker is absent, the meeting will be pointless.
Remember, meetings are resource-intensive. They take up people's time. Most people mistakenly think that if you schedule a one-hour meeting on the calendar, and the meeting turns out to be unproductive, then you've only lost one hour of time. This ignores the time spent preparing for the meeting, getting there, and inevitable delays. So let’s add another half hour on to account for that.
Then you need to look at it in terms of the number of people-hours exhausted.
So if you have five people in your meeting, that's not one hour of wasted time. That's 7.5 hours of wasted time - nearly a full day! From there it's pretty easy to quantify how much a meeting is costing either your company or your clients, depending on how your business is set up. Just multiply those person-hours by the salaries or your billable rate.
It can sometimes ruffle feathers when you have to either disinvite people or leave people out, one fair way to do it is to assign delegates from each department. This way, their time is allocated much more efficiently.
Those who do not attend a meeting should be able to check the outcome of it by looking at the final report or the meeting record. This is why creating meeting notes and sending them to everyone must be common practice. Many organizations don’t do this, but it is imperative that you do so in order for everyone to be on the same page.
Where Is the Meeting?
Before you schedule a meeting, it is important to consider its location. If the location is impractical or unsuitable for a meeting, it won’t be worthwhile.
If the meeting is taking place in an office or similar environment, the first priority is for everyone to be able to physically fit inside the room. Importantly, can everyone see and hear each other? There’s no point in going through the effort of scheduling a meeting and creating a detailed agenda if people can’t see or hear what’s going on.
However, this is not enough. Is there enough table space for people to use laptops, read documents or take notes? If your team can’t properly contribute or absorb information due to a lack of working space, the meeting won’t be productive.
Some meetings may be worthwhile when done remotely - for instance, meeting with clients based in another city - but not when done in person, due to travel time. When meeting through an online meeting solution, there are different challenges to consider.
It is necessary to make sure that everybody who is going to attend the meeting has the appropriate access to the software that you are going to use. Everybody should know how to use it and everybody should have a stable connection.
It is a real pain to be in a meeting where you can’t hear or see someone; or to see the materials they are sharing. Such meetings are a waste of time. To avoid this, make sure you are able to successfully host an online meeting before scheduling one.
Is There an Agenda?
To make sure that everyone gets the most out of a meeting and minimal time is wasted, you need to have an agenda. The agenda should contain all of the meeting’s topics, timings, and supporting materials.
This means everybody should be extremely clear on the following questions:
What are the discussion points? E.g. development of new customer service software programs.
What is the order of the discussions or questions?
How much time is allocated per discussion point or question?
Who is going to report on these?
What do they need to be familiar with by the date of the meeting?
What do they need to have in front of them during the meeting?
Make sure to attach or provide all the necessary materials and supporting information in order to let the people familiarize in advance and to be able to get prepared for the meeting.
Creating an agenda and invitations doesn’t have to be complicated; any free schedule template can be used to plan your meeting. It is a little bit more work up front for the meeting organizer, but it is necessary in order for the meeting to be worthwhile.
Your agenda will act as a guide during the meeting. Methodically addressing each item on the agenda will ensure that the meeting stays on track and doesn’t last any longer than it has to. It will keep everything moving so that people can get out and onto their next task.
Do You Have all the Information?
A common problem with both remote work meetings and face-to-face meetings is that they tend to overrun. People start to exceed the suggested timing for the meeting; either just for one question or for all of them in the agenda. Why does this happen? Generally, it comes down to not being prepared enough. You don’t have all the information necessary to answer one or more questions in order to reach a resolution.
This can often lead to speculation of facts and information that you need to make your decision.
Speculation just causes discussion to spiral in circles and it results in people trying to prove each other wrong. You need to have accurate information to have productive meetings.
If you really need a piece of information to go forward, go get it. If you need it to continue the meeting, you might want to temporarily adjourn. If it can wait until after, set a reminder to send it as soon as you’ve finished.
Do You Really Need a Meeting?
One of the most crucial things to understand is whether you really need a meeting in order to resolve any pending questions or issues. Apart from your regularly scheduled events, such as weekly quota report meetings, there are very few situations where it is absolutely necessary to set up a meeting.
Some situations require a meeting to be set up in order to reach a quick resolution. For instance, something urgent may have popped up that requires rapid action or special attention. Perhaps you’re introducing something that you know will bring about a lot of questions, and it’s quicker to address them as a group than individually.
Another common reason to schedule a meeting is when you need to get a new teammate on track. You may need to familiarize him/her with all the aspects of a project and key tools such as your PaaS examples or a particular communication tool. Often, it’s more convenient to schedule a meeting and do this all together.
Thus, when organizing a meeting the first thing you want to do is to define whether you really need this meeting. Some things by their very nature are just not a good use of group time. It may be more reasonable to just discuss any issues or updates via email and individual chats.
What Does This Mean?
By asking yourself these questions before you schedule a meeting, you ensure that you’re not wasting people’s time.
In lieu of the tedious, ineffectual meetings you may be used to, you will enjoy team meetings that are both concise and structured. You may find that the amount of time you spend in meetings is more than halved, whilst productivity spikes upward.
The hours of time that used to be swallowed by past meetings will now translate directly to increased profitability for your organization.
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