Looking at my calendar for a given week, I’m struck at how much of my time is consumed by meetings: daily meetings, weekly meetings, bi-weekly meetings, monthly meetings, quarterly meetings, and so on. And those are just the scheduled meetings … add on top of that the ad-hoc meetings: “Can I talk with you for a few minutes about …” At least half of my weekly calendar is taken up with some sort of meeting … are they really necessary?
It seems to me that there are three basic types of meetings:
- Meetings that are called because someone thinks it would be a good idea for everyone to get together
- Meetings whose sole purpose is to communicate status or progress or give a current “state of the union” perspective
- Meetings that are needed to get stakeholders and participants together to build a solution or make a key decision
It should be obvious that the first type of meeting should never happen. Meetings need to have a reason — lacking a specific purpose, they just waste everyone’s time. Fortunately this type of meeting does not occur in my calendar often.
Status meetings can be useful if there is useful information to be presented: but if there is no new information to be presented they should be cancelled. This is by far the largest block of meetings on my calendar; but every time I try to cut one out, it reappears because it plays a vital role in my organization. Sometimes these meetings are recognized by all participants as a royal pain, but the benefits of the meeting outweigh the pain. An example of this is a quarterly Program Management Review (PMR) that I created several years ago to give the Director a complete view of all activities in his center. This is a five hour meeting (that’s right: five hours) that is a struggle to schedule because it ends up including a large fraction of the staff to either brief their activity, take notes, or be available to answer questions. It take a lot of effort to put this meeting together, but the Director always says afterward that it was a great meeting because there is no other opportunity for him to see all the pieces of his puzzle in one place.
During the course of an activity, there will come a time where all the players need to be together so that decisions can be made and plans locked in. This type of meeting can be fun to participate in because real work happens and things are getting done! The key here is to keep the group small — just those that are needed for the task to be accomplished — and to keep the group on task. Make sure everyone knows what they need to do during the meeting, and track the actions that are assigned as a result of the discussion.
So … there is such a thing as a ‘good’ meeting, but it is because someone put a lot of time and effort into making sure it was worth the time we spent.