“This could have been an email.”
These six words can take the wind out of an office. They mean time has been wasted, employees are frustrated, and leadership has only been marginally undermined.
Unjustified meetings are inefficient and crass. The random insertion of time on colleagues’ calendars – just to fumble with its purpose, carry it out without instruction, or spend all of your time talking to attendees rather than working with them – takes a toll on everyone involved.
Here we’re going to review some criteria to look for in deciding whether a meeting is worth everyone’s time, spot some clear signs that a problem is not justifying a meeting, and go over some of the most important and effective meeting alternatives.
When should you have a meeting?
The problem at hand is urgent and time sensitive.
When the information you need to convey is essential and time-sensitive, don’t think twice – book a meeting. You don’t want to take the risk of sending a bulk email about an urgent problem only to be glossed over or ignored entirely by some employees.
Some things need to be known and cannot wait, and your response to these instances must reflect that kind of urgency. Don’t be too passive. Don’t rely on your team members to get the information in their spare time. Book a meeting and convey these points.
You need a space for in-depth discussion and multiple perspectives.
Some problems require a certain amount of cooperation and thought out loud. These types of brainstorming sessions and general discussions warrant actual meetings. The spontaneous thinking and flexibility of your team to separate ideas from one another is difficult to replicate via media such as instant messages or emails.
Collaborative meetings encourage creativity and critical thinking. If you feel your team needs to instantly share thoughts and ideas in person, booking a meeting is probably your best bet.
Decision making plays a role.
When the content of a potential meeting is high priority – as in “decisions that have a material impact on the future of the business” – you need to bring everyone together.
You cannot take these situations lightly. In these cases, stakeholders need to know what is going on and have a forum to raise concerns and contribute. An email chain, message board, or recorded video presentation does not provide this.
When you don’t need a meeting
You don’t have a final agenda.
One of the biggest meeting mistakes you can make is getting in without a plan. Never wing a meeting. Just going in and trying to figure things out as you go is frustrating and disgusting for your team members – it’s an unproductive waste of time.
Failure to put an agenda together will also undermine your ability to determine whether the issue at hand is worth discussing at all. Taking the time to organize your thoughts, concerns, and materials will give yourself the opportunity to see the situation in a more objective light.
With that clarity and perspective, you can more accurately determine whether the information you need to convey is better suited to bulk email, an instant messaging chain, or some other less time and energy consuming format.
You don’t have all of your information together.
This point builds on the above. If you’re not thoroughly prepared, or if the information you’ve gathered so far gives an incomplete picture of the current situation, hold back when booking a meeting.
The most effective meetings are thorough, thoughtful, and provide actionable guidance. If you only have part of the bigger picture, chances are you won’t definitely be able to get your team on the right track – and you won’t have that time when everyone is booked back.
When you have information on hand that you think your team should know. Perhaps it would be better if you reached out to them through a less personal, time-consuming medium and let them know that you will soon have more insights.
Too many people will be attending the meeting.
If you find that your list of potential meeting attendees seems too large, consider other options to get the information in question. Massive meetings are often unproductive and usually involve a lot of people who don’t really need to be there.
If the meeting is packed to the rafters, you probably won’t see much thoughtful, organized discussion. When so many people need to know what you have to say, it’s probably more of a one-sided announcement than an issue that lends itself to collaborative effort. In most cases, this type of content is generally better suited for email.
- Video presentations
- Instant messaging
- Wikis and FAQ pages
E-mail is perhaps the most popular alternative to meetings. It’s an excellent resource for announcements and less urgent, more general internal communications – information that doesn’t necessarily require an immediate response. It allows you to easily get your message across, while at the same time providing an opportunity for individual questions and well-thought-out collaboration.
2. Video presentations
Recorded video presentations can be a great way to convey information in a thorough and thoughtful way without bringing the team together. Resources like loom This feature allows you to conduct demonstrations, record messages, and provide updates for your team members to see for themselves. This reduces friction and saves time that a large meeting may be wasted.
3. Instant messaging
Instant messaging is one of the better ways to replicate some of the more immediate, spontaneous aspects of a joint meeting. Such programs allow you to get quick, real-time responses from team members. The format is best for quick questions and conversations that are not necessarily important enough to warrant large meetings.
4. Wikis and FAQ pages
Wikis and FAQ pages provide materials that answer frequently asked questions and concerns your team members have. These media are also effective in the long term. By putting information on a website, you can provide your team with an evergreen point of reference for concern and avoid unnecessary meetings down the line.
Quiz: Do you really need this meeting?
Meetings must be booked carefully and deliberately. Your colleagues can’t get that time back. So, you need to know that you will be productive every time you connect with them.
When considering booking time with your team, keep the items on this list in mind. You don’t want to deal with the moans and eye rolls that come with a meeting that “could have been an email”.