Do You Really Need to Hold That Meeting?

Meetings have many benefits, offering the opportunity for real-time communication and the ability to hear tone of voice and observe body language. They’re also a great way to interact with your colleagues, fostering positive relationships and helping employees get to know each other more personally. But meetings can also consume our valuable time and make calendar management unduly difficult.

Meetings have many benefits, offering the opportunity for real-time communication and the ability to hear tone of voice and observe body language. They’re also a great way to interact with your colleagues, fostering positive relationships and helping employees get to know each other more personally.

But meetings can also consume our valuable time and make calendar management unduly difficult.

The following guidelines and considerations are designed to improve meeting efficiency and potentially reduce their number.

This guide cannot cover all possible scenarios and it is understood that on occasion, it will be necessary to schedule meetings that do not meet these criteria, but whenever possible, have a discussion using chat or email rather than scheduling a meeting.

When is a meeting necessary?

Meetings are appropriate and necessary when they meet the following criteria:

  • Discussion of complex, nuanced subject matter
  • Subject matter that spans across multiple functions, departments, or areas of expertise
  • Dialogue will be valuable because it will include feedback and perspectives from multiple stakeholders and is best collected face-to-face, in real-time
  • The topic and outcomes will impact several people or departments, and those people will need to share decisions or next steps resulting from the discussion to others
  • When collaboration is necessary prior to creating emails, written documentation, or records
  • Also, consider whether using chat or email is a good alternative to holding this meeting. Ask:
    — Is the topic relatively narrow in scope?
    — Does the person you are communicating with have full command and knowledge of this topic, or will you need to spend some time providing context and background?
    — Does the information need to be shared with several people?
    — Do you need an active discussion and response immediately, or can this wait?
  • When in doubt, ask others if they think a meeting is necessary!

When should you avoid holding a meeting?

  • The information being shared is an update or FYI with no significant feedback required
    — This information is probably best conveyed via email or chat, depending on the complexity
  • The meeting does not have a clear purpose or desired outcome
    — If the organizer isn’t able to clearly identify the purpose of the meeting or the desired outcome, then more time should be spent answering these questions before scheduling a meeting
    — Recurring meetings sometimes outlive their purpose. When this happens, the meeting should be removed from calendars moving forward
  • Critical meeting attendees are unavailable
    — If the people most critical to the meeting can’t attend, reschedule the meeting rather than holding it without key people in attendance
  • Some of the meeting participants don’t have enough background information to fully participate in the meeting
    — Before holding a meeting, take the time to ensure all participants have the information needed to fully participate so the meeting will be productive
  • Participants have not had adequate time to prepare for the meeting
    — If participants have not had enough time to review materials prior to a meeting, it makes sense to reschedule the meeting to a later date
  • Feedback does not need to be provided in real time
    — If feedback on a written plan or document is required, it may be most effective to solicit it via email, allowing people to take their time reviewing the document rather than holding a meeting

When should the meeting be scheduled?

  • As a practice, meetings should not be scheduled outside of regular business hours
  • Honor a daily lunch hour for all staff. During this time employees are not expected to be working and meetings should not be scheduled
  • Hold Friday afternoons as a meeting-free time. This allows employees to finish work from the week and transition to the weekend with fewer interruptions
  • Try to title and label meetings as accurately as possible. In addition to the meeting name, if it is a recurring meeting or private meeting, for example, please mark it appropriately

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How can we improve the efficiency of our meetings?

  • Attendees should arrive on time. If that’s not possible, the host or another attendee should be informed that you’re running late and when you expect to arrive
  • Attendees should be prepared and read all attachments and other materials in advance
  • In virtual meetings whenever possible, all attendees should use the video function
  • Attendees should mute themselves when not speaking
  • Meetings should end on time — or early!

Other meeting best practices:

  1. Provide a clear agenda
  2. Be mindful of time
  3. Ease the burden of note taking. Consider enabling others to better engage throughout the meeting by determining the role of the organizer at the outset and deciding who will take and send follow-up notes for the group afterward.
  4. Provide learning aids (visual, tactile, auditory) for retention
  5. Define and summarize clear action items or outcomes
  6. Send a post-meeting recap. This recap can also include the next meeting date and time as well as how decisions that were made were shared with other stakeholders, if appropriate.

These guidelines are exactly that – guidelines. It is understood that there will be extenuating circumstances when the attendees (different time zones, accommodating multiple schedules, etc.) or the topic (an urgent or emergency matter) require that we operate outside these guidelines. Staff are expected to use good judgment when evaluating the facts of any situation.

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