Over the last two weeks, in “Back to Basics: Making Your Meetings More Effective,” and “The Business Case for Making Your Meetings Matter (Part Two),” I have been sharing several basic ideas for improving your organizational ROI for meetings.
Clearly, the only thing that ultimately matters about any meeting is the quality of the decisions made or the ideas developed during the meeting. However, even if a particular meeting doesn’t produce all the desired outcomes, there can still be value from the conversation:
Even if on the surface the group failed to complete its task, it is worth remembering that the participants may have forged new relationships, learned important facts about the issue or each other, or generated new ideas that will eventually produce even more meaningful results. (from Chapter 8, page 193, Making Meetings Matter)
Today I want to focus on reducing the cost of your meetings. Keep in mind, however, that the quality of a meeting’s outcomes is much more important than its cost. As Peter Drucker so often commented, it is far more important to do the right things than it is to do things right. Nevertheless, there are many ways to make meetings more efficient without sacrificing their quality.
I want to highlight briefly three separate but complementary actions you can take right now to make your meetings more efficient:
- Hold fewer meetings
- Conduct shorter meetings
- Schedule more virtual meetings
I will discuss only the first two, reserving the more complex issue of virtual meetings for next week.
Hold Fewer Meetings
The very first thing to ask yourself is always, “Is this meeting necessary?”
As I have noted many times, a meeting is an expensive proposition. It consumes time for every participant – time they could use to do other work they are responsible for.
So why convene the meeting? Even if you have a legitimate goal of informing, influencing, or inspiring others, you still have to ask whether a meeting is the most effective or most productive way to achieve that goal.
If you want to inform a group of people about a decision, a new strategy, or a new challenge, is a real-time face-to-face meeting the best way to do that? Why not prepare a memo or a white paper? Or send out a group email? Or publish a public online document that everyone who needs to know can access online? With any kind of written communication all the recipients can read it and absorb its meaning at a time that is convenient for them. And they all read the same words – not an insignificant benefit.
However, the obvious downside of a written communication is that it is one-way, and there is no way for you to know if the recipients understand what you’ve said, or whether they agree with it.
A real-time meeting may well be your best option. Just don’t let it become your default choice. In my experience, the more often I asked whether a particular meeting was necessary, the fewer meetings I called.
Conduct Shorter Meetings
Why do we all think the meetings should last 60 minutes or more? Where is it mandated that a group decision has to take an hour or more?
The economics of shorter meetings are incredibly compelling. As I mentioned briefly last week, one organization chose to reduce all its weekly team status meetings from one hour to 30 minutes. And no one complained that they needed more meeting time.
Because that firm had over 3,000 employees working on project teams, that “simple” change resulted in freeing up 1500 person-hours a week! At an average salary level of $80,000 a year, or $40 an hour, that amounts to over $30 million a year in freed-up organizational resources!
Of course, you also have to ensure that shifting that half-hour from meeting time to individual activity produces meaningful additional value, but my point is a simple one: meetings consume an incredible amount of time that can often be put to better use by individuals.
The key, of course, is learning how to reach decisions and achieve other meeting goals in less time; that requires effective, focused, intentional meeting leadership. Yes, that may be easier said than done, but isn’t it worth the effort?
My message is a simple but important one: be intentional about the way you rely on meetings, and how you design them. Be willing to improve efficiencies; you rarely put your outcomes at risk.
Do you have any stories about eliminating meetings, or shortening them? I’d love to hear, and retell, your stories.
For a longer exploration of what makes meetings matter and how to improve meeting efficiencies, order a copy today of my most recent book, Making Meetings Matter: How Smart Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age (link is to the book’s page on Amazon.com. However, you should contact me directly for volume discounts).
And call me today (+1 510.558.1434) for a free exploratory conversation about how you can become a hero by improving your organization’s meeting ROI. Isn’t it time to upgrade the quality and the efficiency of all your meetings?