When describing the amount of e-mails that people at her organization have to deal with on a daily basis, one of our workshop participants described it as "the e-mail jail." Another participant described e-mail as "painful."
The other "jail" that I hear about consistently (even though it has not been described this way) is the meeting jail (that is when you spend several hours a day if not all day in back to back meetings). It has been described also as painful. No wonder that many meeting "inmates" end up checking out mentally and/or checking e-mail during meetings (steeling from one jail to pay the dues of the other).
So if most people concur that e-mail and meetings are not used effectively or even abused, why do we all keep sending an abundance of e-mails and setting up a profusion of meetings? Today I am going to explore the topic of meetings. Please refer to the tip-of-the-months articles for more insights into the e-mail related issues.
Why do we keep having so many meetings?
Maybe because some of us (those who set these meetings up) need to communicate information to others, or get information from others, or maybe get some decisions made, and they resort to meetings to do so. While others (those who get asked to attend these meetings) may or may not have interest in communicating this information or getting these decisions made, or maybe they don't think that meetings is the best way to accomplish this. We find that the latter is true more often than not. Meetings are sometimes used as substitutions for having good information sharing processes and technologies, for having best practices for communicating, and for having a clear decision making process. Meetings can also be a great escape from having to do the real work. What a great alibi!
Managers, at all levels, are likely to initiate more meetings and require/expect their staff to attend these meetings--more so than non-managers. Hence this appeal is for managers to re-think their meeting strategy. Similar to the appeal I sent a while ago regarding interruptions.
I would like to share with you a few strategies that can help you minimize the number of meetings that you have with your staff, and make the meetings you have far more effective, and therefore save yourself and your staff some valuable hours, which you all need to do your critical tasks:
- Find ways to communicate information and to get information from people without necessarily getting everyone in the same room or on the same conference call. Tools like wikis, blogs, Microsoft SharePoint can help streamline this information sharing process, turn it into a 24x7 on-demand activity, and create a team "memory" for the team effort that can be leveraged again and again.
- Think through how the decision making process is currently working within your team, or not. Is it ad-hoc or it is structured and clear to everyone? Is it efficient or it is taking too long? Has it been discussed? If you don't know the answer or not happy with the answer, then further exploration is imperative. The most common decision making models are: One person making the decision on their own, or one person making the decision but after consulting others, or the person delegating the decision, or everyone deciding together by consensus (and more variations of these). It is important to identify which issues should follow which model. So instead of having long meetings with endless decision making discussions, let us get clear and save time.
- Delegate, delegate, delegate. Both decisions and tasks. More can be delegated than most of us would admit to. Instead of spending time with endless group discussions and decisions, let the person closest to the issues make the decision. Delegate and then coach to build individual and team skills that can also be leveraged again and again.
- Develop a results driven culture (you might call it the Management by Objectives practice which was popularized by Peter Drucker). Communicating and discussing objectives is more efficient and it leaves room for you team to take initiatives and be creative. Everyone wins.
- Involve your team in this process of making meetings effective. The collective wisdom of the team is likely to prevail and bring about some compelling results.
How about you select one of the above, and make it one of the topics in the next meeting to get this effort started?