Making meetings successful
Good leaders want to make effective use of their employees’ time and one way to do that is to limit unnecessary meetings. This seems like solid logic, but leaders must be careful not to take it too far.
I met a leader recently who insists he will never have team meetings which include every employee who reports to him. It is his contention that any meeting involving all of his direct reports will be a waste of their time—by definition.
While his intentions are good and while meetings get a bad name, it’s important to realize they can be very effective at motivating great employee performance. Face-to-face is often best, but whether physical or virtual, the opportunity to get people together in the same place, at the same time is a powerful way to boost effectiveness for a team.
Ways To Make Meetings Worthwhile Rather Than Wasteful
Here’s why you shouldn’t completely strike meetings from your work process.
People need context. To do their best work, people need a sense of purpose and an understanding of the bigger picture to which their work is related. This requires context—they need to see the broader situation related to the market, customers and the competition. This kind of situational information is most easily shared in a larger meeting. It can help people see their connection to the big picture as well as the connection of their peers and the team as a whole.
People need communication. When people feel in the loop and trusted, they also tend to feel more appreciated. Nothing is more devaluing than feeling irrelevant or unnecessary. Shared information helps ensure these reactions don’t occur. In his book, Team of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal makes the case that more people should know more information at the same time—and that contributes to effective decision making. Meetings ensure people have necessary information and feel part of the inner circle, thereby providing them with situational awareness to make the best-possible decisions.
People need clarity. Meetings are also helpful because they let people exchange information. The worst meetings are the ones where communication is one-way—with a leader simply presenting data that could have been shared in an email. Effective meetings, on the other hand, include plenty of dialogue, questions and answers, and conversation to help clarify topics and issues. Sharing in a group setting is especially valuable because a colleague may think of a question others didn’t, and the group experience enhances everyone’s learning.
People need community. The value of meetings isn’t just in the content they contain, but also in the opportunity people have to rub elbows and develop camaraderie. Connecting with others is one of the most rewarding elements of the workplace and whether employees are introverts or extraverts all need some relationship with co-workers. After all, work is fundamentally social, and shared goals, common language and mutual efforts contribute to a positive work experience.
People need a course of action. Finally, while people must be empowered to make decisions and perform their work in the way they know is best, they also need to know the direction of the company and the vision of the leader. Meetings provide a key way to provide the path, boundaries and motivation toward a shared future course.
It’s no secret that badly designed and poorly run meetings can be terrible time-wasters. But when meetings are effective, they can provide key elements that make work successful. Context, communication, clarity, community and a clear course of action are all powerful ways to ensure not only that meetings are productive, but the work in total is brilliant.