Meetings and Efficiency

Let's skip right to a random topic - let's call it a brief rant about meetings. How often are meetings an efficient use of each attendees time?

The answer, of course, depends on the topic, the organizer, and the attendees. I've been to way too many agendaless meetings with the wrong people invited. Many people plan for this and bring their laptops to meetings and use the dead time to check email (or ebay). I've even seen people instant message other people in the same meeting! It's an unfortunately rare event where I attend a meeting where I leave thinking it was an efficient use of my time - furthermore, most "senior" managers spend 6 or more hours a day in meetings. Some of these people, are actually proud they spend so much of their time in meetings - I guess it makes them feel important...?

I would know - I've been a manager, and I'm "senior enough" that I get invited to a lot of meetings. I value my time so much, however, that I am discretionary as to which meetings I attend. If there's no agenda or scheduled objective, I usually don't go (I do give the organizer a chance to provide this information if it isn't in the invitation). I will also walk out of meetings if they're filled with dead space or are otherwise not a good use of my time. I rarely bring my laptop to meetings - if I attend a meeting I want to participate. If everyone else in the meeting is reading email or web surfing, I'll go back to my office and get some real work done.

Should meetings be abolished? Of course not! The process of getting a group of smart people together to solve a problem can not be undervalued. Below are a few guidelines I like to use to increase the potential value of meetings. 

  • Always have a goal for the meeting. Know in advance what you want to accomplish
  • Always publish an agenda. In some cases, the "goal" and agenda may be identical. This is fine, but if you don't have an agenda, you have no way of knowing if your meeting is on track
  • Schedule the meeting for an appropriate amount of time. I curse outlook everyday for making the default meeting time 60 minutes. I would estimate that at least half of the 60 minute meetings I attend could be completed in 30 minutes if that was the scheduled time. This is another reason to have an agenda. If you know what you're going to do, you know how much time to plan for it.
  • Invite the right people. Again - if you have an agenda and a goal, it's much easier to determine who would be able to contribute effectively. Additionally, if you publish an agenda, the invitees will know in advance how much they would be able to contribute.
  • My rant is over - comments welcome.

    Comments (3)
    1. Ravi says:

      I am a contract developer and in a large company I was working for, the number of hours I spent on meetings started going over 2 hours per day. I kept protesting (people were surprised that I did !). Then I took books to meetings (and read them) to indicate that this meeting had nothing of relevance to me. Ofcourse it took a lot more to limit my meetings to 1/2 hour a day. I can only pity the full time employees of such companies!

    2. Alan Page says:

      That’s awesome. I’ve thought of getting out a magazine or doodling on the white board, but settled for just leaving instead.

    Comments are closed.

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