With the turn of the annual calendar, many New Year's resolutions include eating a more balanced diet to get in better shape. Businesses should do the same with a more balanced diet of meetings. Far too many companies experience either meeting bloat or meeting starvation.
Organizations with too many meetings become sluggish and incapable of responding quickly to problems. Think of it as meeting indigestion. At the opposite end of the spectrum are companies and teams suffering from meeting starvation. This is equally unhealthy. So how do we find a balance between meeting overdose and meeting starvation?
Unfortunately, the answer is "it depends." Just like people can have different nutritional requirements, the type and frequency of meetings you need depends on your team's personnel, your industry, the ever-changing economy, and where you're at in a given business cycle.
1. Each meeting needs it own specific purpose: Meetings become much more efficient and effective when they have a clear purpose. Clarify the purpose of your meetings by answering one or more of these questions:
- At the end of this meeting, what decisions must I have in hand?
- What needs to be communicated?
- How does this meeting align with our team/company goals?
- Is there another way to accomplish the purpose of this meeting without having to bring everyone together?
Also, create an agenda for each meeting, and make sure someone is identified to facilitate discussion on each item.
2. Minimize status meetings: With today's technology, there's little reason to hold most status meetings. Status can be posted on a website, sent via email, or even posted on a physical bulletin board. For example, many companies are now using wiki's and other Web 2.0 applications to track projects.
3. When decisions are needed, distribute info ahead of time: Much time is wasted presenting information at meetings. When people can read things ahead of time they arrive at meetings already informed, plus they have time to think about what they want to discuss. Just be sure to state clearly what decision(s) will be needed at the meeting.
Four basic "food groups" of meetings
It's possible to take all the different types of meetings that occur in the workplace and categorize them into four basic groups. Interestingly, in his book Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni also identifies four types of meetings, and I recommend his insightful book to learn why meetings work well and why they don't. But for now, let's stay with our balanced diet analogy.
1. Informational Meetings: These are often status meetings or presentations. Lencioni's "daily check-in" falls into this category - a 5-10 minute daily meeting to let others know what's on your plate that day.
It's best to keep informational meetings short, engaging, and fun. For example, in what's known in the restaurant industry as an alley rally, restaurant managers meet with servers before a shift to review that night's specials, what wines would pair well with them, etc. Alley rally's are often conducted with people standing, and with samples of new dishes and short, fun contests or quizzes.
2. Problem-Solving Meetings: Problem-solving meetings are for resolving disputes or crisis, identifying and removing obstacles, and even project planning. Lencioni's "weekly tactical" meeting falls into this category.
Typically such meetings can last one or two hours, although if the purpose is accomplished in less time, there's no reason to stay. They key at problem-solving meetings is avoid discussing strategy. Stay focused on solving the problem or you get sidetracked and waste time.
3. Planning Meetings: The purpose of planning meetings is making higher-level decisions. These can include constructive debate, analysis, and investigation of issues.
A good approach for conducting planning meetings is for answering the question, "what should we be doing and why should we be doing it?" Lencioni's "monthly strategic" meeting falls into this group. Whereas problem-solving meetings address the issues of how to reach a team's strategic goals, planning meetings are for creating those goals.
4. Retreats / Teambuilding Meetings: These meetings allow teams to step back from the action and refocus, and it's best if they take place off site, away from email and ringing phones. Questions that can be addressed include: What has worked well? What hasn't? Are people in the right place? How are we working together as a team?
For such meetings, it's often good to have at least part of it facilitated by someone from outside the company. Done right, these meetings lead to better communication, team cohesiveness, and a stronger commitment to team goals and objectives.
Bottom line: A balanced diet of meetings will help your company grow in the direction of its goals. Make sure each meeting has its own specific purpose and that you have an appropriate balance for your team's needs.