Meetings for meetings’ sake?

Something that we heard from one of our clients recently was that “a modern day engineer’s life is just conference call after conference call” and this is an issue common across numerous industry sectors. I’m willing to bet that a large proportion of us have said something to the effect of “I spend so much time in meetings talking about what I need to do, that I never get time to do anything!” at least at some point during our careers.

Meetings are absolutely essential for collaborative working and the right meetings at the right stages of a project can be fundamental in avoiding issues down the line, however there are undoubtedly times where the attendee list could be reduced, or the meeting avoided altogether.

In a world where we are so focused on financial budgets, why do we not have the same respect for time expenditure? Have you ever attempted to calculate the cost of a meeting that you’ve put in? A typical 2-hour meeting for mid-level management in the UK, with 6 attendees, would cost around £600. If these occur regularly the costs soon add up to a sizeable sum.

When putting in a meeting, have a go at doing the following:

1 – Define the purpose of the meeting

Why are you planning to have a meeting in the first place?

2 – Outline desired outcomes

What it is that you’d like to get from this meeting?

3 – Write an agenda

A clear agenda helps shape the structure of a meeting and ensures the content is fit for purpose.

4 – Consider the audience

We often see meetings thrown in at the last minute, where anyone and everyone is invited in the hope that by casting such a large net, the right people will inevitably be present.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the average number of attendees per meeting has risen 13.5% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Think back to the cost of the meeting; it’s common to see people bring multiple members from their team along to a meeting, often out of a feeling of safety. Do you need to double up in attendance, or can the time of you and your team be spent more wisely? Who needs to be there to achieve the desired outcomes?

5 – Finally, ask yourself whether this really requires a meeting at all?

By this point you know what you want to achieve, whose input you need and who you want to say it to. Are you sure that a meeting is the best way to do this? Other than knowledge sharing calls, each meeting should generate actions.

We often see clients sit through a full day of meetings and only play an active part in 50% of them, whilst justifying their involvement in the other 50% as “those were just for info!” Whilst we are not recommending culling your diary of knowledge sharing calls, simply joining meetings on the off chance you’ll be informed of a relevant matter, doesn’t seem like a suitable justification for the time.

So, before you hit the send button inviting a plethora of people to a meeting with a generic title and no agenda, take a moment to change your approach and hopefully change the outcome, too! Effective meeting discipline, and removing a ‘meetings culture’, could create a substantial amount of capacity in your organisation. Allowing staff to do the do, managers to manage effectively and reduce the chance that employees have to work above and beyond their standard hours.