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How to avoid having that meeting that could've been done over email

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Kerrie-Anne Chinn, Content & Editorial Manager
2019-01-21

Ask any office worker what’s most frustrating about their job and it’s highly likely they’ll mention meetings in some form or other.

Too many meetings. Long, pointless meetings. Meetings that ended up being a complete waste of time. And the biggest one: meetings that could’ve been done over email!

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If you’re feeling frustrated by the number of meetings you’re attending, you’re not alone.

Many employees know the challenges that arise from trying to juggle too many meetings – especially when those meetings often feel pointless, disorganised or counterproductive.

You know the feeling: you’ve just got into the perfect work zone, feeling 100% inspired and focused, when your alarm goes off to advise of a meeting. By the time you get back to your desk and regain concentration, it’s only to have it broken by yet another meeting.

When your calendar is constantly booked out with back-to-back meetings, it becomes very hard to find the time to carry out all those tasks discussed at meetings!

Obviously, many meetings can be great: productive, innovative, motivating and good for team morale. But we’re talking about the other kind of meeting: those that could’ve been done over email. Or not at all.

Here are some things to consider when you’re being confronted by too many meeting invites. Or are not quite sure whether to set up a meeting, or stick to email.

Do You Need to Accept that Meeting?

First, you need to ask yourself: do I really need to accept that meeting?

Most workers are just in the habit of accepting a meeting invitation the minute it pops up in their inbox. The thing is, you don’t need to accept every meeting invite that comes your way.

In his TED talk, speaker David Grady discusses the “epidemic of bad, inefficient, overcrowded meetings [that] is plaguing the world’s businesses and making workers miserable.”

According to Grady, Mindless Accept Syndrome occurs when employees automatically accept meeting invitations – without agendas, without clarity of purpose, without knowing why they have been selected to attend and not knowing what they are expected to contribute nor to achieve.

You can learn to change this behaviour, by proactively questioning and considering each meeting invite that comes your way.

Before clicking that accept button, ask yourself:

Do I really know what it’s about? Can I add value by attending this meeting? Could this be taken care of over email or with a quick phone call?

Do I Need to Set Up that Meeting?

Of course, these kinds of questions also apply if you’re the person setting up the meeting.

If you’re not sure whether a meeting is necessary, think about these factors:

Do you need definitive answers or data from someone? If so, it’s better to ask the person to put them down in an email. This also allows them to think over and process your questions carefully, before giving their response.

Do you need feedback on your document/project plan/strategy? This can definitely be done over email or one-on-one. Being in meetings where everybody is silently reading over something is not a good use of time for anyone. With an email, each person can review the papers properly then offer their feedback.

Has anything progressed since the last meeting? If nothing has moved forward and there are is no action to take, you may as well stick to an email. This way, you can spend that time at your desk instead, working on getting things moving.

Asking yourself these three questions will help you establish whether a meeting is actually necessary or if it could’ve been done over email.

Make Meetings More Productive

When something can’t be done over email or phone, make sure you’re making every single meeting as productive as possible – especially if you’re leading it.

Unfortunately, while meetings are supposed to help improve your team’s business operations, productivity and collaboration, they can actually do the opposite.

That’s why it’s so important to make every single meeting as productive, engaging and efficient as possible.

Meetings without structure are in danger of going on forever, and often employees will leave wondering why they were even present.

Follow these guidelines for better meetings:

  • Set an agenda – a simple meeting agenda, distributed in advance, is perhaps the most important tool in ensuring a successful productive meeting
  • Establish ground rules – stop people displaying disruptive behaviours in meetings, get the group to agree on ground rules about how your meetings will be run
  • Give roles and responsibilities – ensure that everyone involved is crystal clear on their roles and the associated responsibilities of those roles
  • Complete action and follow-up – agree on tasks (action items) that should be carried out, with clear deliverables and due dates for individuals

By changing the way meetings are designed, led and experienced, you’ll be enhancing your team’s productivity and engagement, while cutting down on pointless, frustrating meeting time. In the process, you might even make workplace meetings fun, and something that staff can look forward to!

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