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Making meetings work for all

July 31, 2018

Workplace Culture

You’re having a good day. You’re meeting deadlines and the project you’ve been working on is progressing well. You’re enjoying your work, as you plough through your to-do list. It feels great to strike a line through each task, you feel you’re achieving. You feel energised for this project, and its rewarding to feel engaged like this. The rest of the team is working well and you’re able to support each other by staying focussed. That focus is all important on projects like this, so its good that you’re all working well. Everybody's happy. Today is a good day.

Then, it happens. You open your email.

Your heart sinks. Breathe a heavy sigh. It sits there in your inbox, staring at you. Blinking at you like a demon in the darkness waiting to pounce, urging you to react, willing you to open it. But you know what it is, you know what it wants, and you know what it means. This isn’t good news. It’s the most dreaded, disheartening moment of your day. You feel your energy levels begin to drop. Your shoulders tighten, and you feel moments away from breaking into a cold sweat. You open the email. Just as you thought. Its an invitation to a meeting. A meeting. Another meeting…

You can tell by the agenda, and the other people invited that this meeting won’t help. It won’t get your project any closer to its completion. You won’t walk away from it with any information you either don’t already have or can’t already access. In reality, this meeting is an obstacle. It stands as an unwelcome distraction between you and the work you should be doing. We all know that some meetings are essential. We need them. But this is one of those moments. It feels like a meeting purely for the sake of having a meeting. Again, you sigh reluctantly as you click to accept the invitation.

We need meetings, its true. They are a positive force for work, powered by the simple fuel of human connections. We make decisions, and are able to move forward. But they can also get in the way, we know that. We’ve all had colleagues or managers who call meetings just so they can listen to the sound of their own voice. The point is to share information, to monitor progress and make decisions. Well, we have all the tools we need to do that electronically. We can certainly do without some meetings. Or at the very least, we can make the meetings work better by remembering a few points.

Firstly, we need to be honest with ourselves. Is the meeting absolutely necessary, or can we reach the same decisions quicker and easier by using another method. If we can send an invitation by email, couldn’t we just use email to get us to where the meeting will take us? Also, look at the invitation list. Does everybody on the list need to be there? Or can other colleagues not just simply ripple the information out after the meeting?

Let’s say the meeting is unavoidable. Disciplined timekeeping helps keep meetings productive and worthwhile. We should move through the items quickly, get to the point, and reach decision for action without trailing off into pointless anecdotes. This is what drags meetings out. Its important to stay on the path. If a meeting is managed well, those attending will feel inspired by the dynamic of it, and will be better moved towards meeting the actions they take away from them. Meetings should motivate, not deflate us.

If we must meet - if we really must - then we must make that meeting work for everyone concerned.

The most important part of any meeting is surely what happens after the meeting. Making sure that team members follow up on the action points they take away from them, and enabling them to support each other, is central to getting the most out of meetings. We should be realistic in what we agree to take on. There’s no problem with stepping up and volunteering for extra tasks, as long as we remember that they may get in the way of actually doing our job. Its all a balance.

Meetings. The necessary evil of our working life, but managed properly, there is a purpose and a benefit to them. That invitation in your inbox can occasionally do good. Go it....I dare you....

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