In a productivity-obsessed work culture where time management is key, it’s not uncommon to be bombarded by the idea that meetings kill productivity.
The case against meetings is multifaceted. We convene too many of them and should consider alternative avenues for communication. The majority of these conversations lack clear agendas. Not all those invited have a true stake in the proceedings. These appointments drone on without accomplishing much; at least, participants consider most of their time spent together as wasted.
It’s a serious indictment of the business meeting.
It also happens to be dead wrong. The problem with meetings isn’t that we have too many of them, but that we have too few of the right kinds of meetings.
Making a Case for Meetings
For sheer clarity and productivity, the face-to-face huddle remains unrivaled. About 60% of the time, audiences misread tone or message when reading text-based communications such as emails and Slack comments. It’s not hard to see why. Without a social context, body language, and follow-up exchanges in the moment, misinterpretations multiply. Far from wasting time, meetings turn out to be a time saver.
Not only do meetings offer superior venues for communication, but they also build community. Despite the criticisms targeting meetings, almost 95% of respondents to one survey considered them “key” to maintaining relationships. Even Millennials, the most digitally native generation in the workplace, prefer face-to-face interactions to texts and chats by a four-to-one margin.
Important Material Means You Should Meet
These gains in clarity and relationality make meetings particularly valuable when they cover material of the highest importance. In an email or phone call, the constraints of mediation can affect the message.
When it comes to brainstorming new ideas, solving problems, or closing a deal, nothing can match in-person meetings. A Caesar’s Entertainment executive has developed a mantra to capture this wisdom: “If it’s not that important, send an email. If it’s important, but not mission critical, pick up the phone. If it’s critically important to the success of your organization, go see someone.”
This mantra is widely shared among leading executives. The late Steve Jobs famously derided the notion that great ideas come out of emails and iChats as “crazy.” Amazon’s Jeff Bezos orchestrates his meetings meticulously, using narrative-driven memos to ground discussion in small groups. Google touts structured meetings as essential.
Make Meetings More Effective
Wondering how to make your meetings more effective? Try these tips:
Call in the experts
Still having trouble conducting solid meetings? Reach out to experts for advice. Leadership speakers can help you develop a company culture where productive meetings are the norm, not the exception.
Convene meetings for strategic thinking
Not every business question needs a get-together to resolve. But when it comes to strategic issues that open discussion could advance, sitting down with stakeholders is important.
Ask yourself if it’s really necessary
It’s a good test of whether a face-to-face encounter is really necessary — and what’s lost if you send an email or pick up the phone.
Establish a clear agenda
Meetings without an agenda are literally pointless. They’re the culprit for a lot of the unproductive round tables that give these sessions their bad reputation.
Limit the meeting to those best suited for it
Don’t invite more people than need to be there. Google limits its executive meetings to eight; Jeff Bezos scrupulously observes the two pizza-rule (that is, if you can’t feed the gathering with two pizzas, it’s too big).
Do your homework beforehand
There’s a time for free-wheeling and informal conversation, of course. But doing some basic preparation before getting together saves time and raises the level of discussion significantly.
Set time restrictions, and follow them
Unless there’s a good reason for extending meeting times, don’t go beyond the schedule’s limits. Observing those constraints tends to focus minds and buoy morale.
Reports of the office meeting’s demise, it turns out, are premature. For communicating information clearly while maintaining strong relationships, there’s still no substitute for getting together. Healthy businesses concerned with productive communication should be holding more — not fewer — meetings. As long as they’re going about it the right way, the face-to-face meeting will continue to be around for a long, long time.