This article was based on episode 33 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get the mini-guide here or the full guide at Patreon.
Meetings seem to be a solution to almost anything. If there’s a problem - have a meeting. If you need to make a decision - have a meeting. If you don’t know what’s going on with the project - have a meeting. However, a meeting is just one form of communication and it’s actually quite costly to have a meeting.
Meetings, like every form of communication, are good for some things and not others. While it seems simple to say, “let’s have a meeting,” it is important to pause and consider if a meeting is really necessary.
SEVEN REASONS TO HAVE A MEETING
There are seven reasons to have a meeting. Knowing the reason you want to meet will help you plan a productive meeting.
To make a decision
To align a group
To brainstorm or ideate
To produce or advance content
To connect and build relationships
To learn or gather information
If I asked you to look at the next three meetings on your calendar, could you identify which of these seven reasons is driving each of those meetings?
FROM PURPOSE TO DESIRED OUTCOMES
We’re all guilty of asking the question, “why are we meeting?” at one time or another. Unfortunately, this is the wrong question to be asking. When answering the question, why are we meeting, it’s most natural to respond with “to + verb.” For example, to brainstorm, to check-in, to update, to review, to discuss. But these are activities, not outcomes. Meetings need to accomplish something to move work forward. Instead of asking, why are we meeting, ask yourself, “what will this meeting achieve?” or, fill in the blank: “At the end of this meeting we will have…” Now you’re more likely to answer with a noun - a result or, as we call it, the desired outcome.
Here are two examples of reframing a “to + verb” statement into a desired outcome.
To review the performance of the advertising pilot. This could be a learning meeting which is about discovering the content and strategies that were most effective. If that’s the case, the desired outcome is: A list of the most effective strategies and content that we can use to guide the next round of advertising initiatives. But, it could also be a decision-making meeting in which case, the desired outcome is: Agreement on what strategies and content to scale.
To figure out how to respond to the customer’s request. This could be a decision-making meeting or a brainstorming session. It depends on who has the authority to make the decision. Therefore, the desired outcome could be: A decision on how to respond to the customers request. Or it could be: 3 potential ways we could respond to the customer’s request, plus the pros and cons of each, which will then be shared with senior management.
The more specific you can be about the desired outcome, the more productive your meeting will be. To help you write a desired outcome for your upcoming meetings, I’ve created a one-page reference guide with dozens of sentence starters.
Meetings are unique compared to other forms of communication like email, chat or collaborative documents, as they require participants to interact real-time. Meetings are ideal for situations where participants need to listen to and respond to one another.
CONSIDER USING A MEETING ALTERNATIVE
Before scheduling that meeting, pause and reflect on whether a meeting is the optimal format to get this work done. When looking at the desired outcome that you want to achieve, ask yourself:
Do I need the participants to listen to, respond to, or interact with one another?
Is there a lot of complexity in the content or situation that needs real-time discussion?
Do I need to generate buy-in with this group of people?
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, a meeting is the right format. If your answer is no or if you are not sure, consider using one or a combination of these alternatives:
Collaborating on a Shared Document. This is one of my favorite meeting alternatives. Instead of presenting the content and asking attendees to verbalize feedback, questions or suggestions, provide a digital space for sharing. Think of a Google Doc in which people can use track changes to edit or leave comments. For visual content like a slide deck or graphics, InvisionApp is a great option.
A collaborative document also works well as pre-work for a meeting. Participants can add their thoughts digitally first and then, if there are areas that need discussion, you can call a meeting to tackle those specific issues.
Send an Email or a Memo. Email is often over and underused. Most of us get way too many emails, meaning things get lost in the shuffle, and email discussions go on for way too long, making it hard to follow the thread of conversation. Meetings which are primarily information sharing really should just be a memo sent via email, but since we know that emails aren’t always read, many people call a meeting instead.
If you’re worried that people won’t read your email, pair it with brief individual check-in. Schedule 10 minutes with each person to answer their questions about the content you shared. Or ask folks to respond to your email with the answer to a specific question so you can keep track of who has read the memo.
Use a Chat App like Slack or Microsoft Teams. Chat is an amazing tool for a brief interaction. It reduces the number of emails people send, making it easier to get attention for the important emails you do send. Chat is ideal for “yes or no” questions and quick input gathering or information sharing.
My team used to have their daily stand up by chat. Between 9-9:15am, each person was expected to type (1) what they accomplished yesterday, (2) what they were planning to accomplish today, and (3) any roadblocks or things they needed from others to move their work forward. Then each person was expected to read everyone else’s and respond accordingly. This reduced what would have otherwise been a 15-20 minute meeting into a 5 min activity. Since it was a daily standup meeting, at a minimum, the shift to chat saved an hour per week for each person.
THE GOAL IS BOTH FEWER AND BETTER MEETINGS
As you start filling up your calendar for 2019, pause before sending that meeting invite. Consider if you really need to have that meeting:
Do you know why you need a meeting?
What will you achieve and what are your desired outcomes?
Is a meeting really the right next step or might a meeting alternative be sufficient?
Take a look at your existing meetings and try writing a desired outcome for each. Then share it with those you’ve invited so they can better prepare for the meeting. When you approach having meetings with intention, you may just find that all those meetings you thought you needed just aren’t so necessary after all.
This article was based on episode 33 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.