The good ones, that is.
The less successful types of meetings have a tendency to undo all of those things, often at twice the speed and with a trail of damaged morale and lost ingenuity in their wake.
2½ Meetings to Stop Having…Immediately!
There are two – and a half – meetings that stand out, particularly when it comes to swapping the unnecessary for the invaluable. Cut these from your calendar and you’ll be shocked by the shift in team tone, usable time, and overall satisfaction with day-to-day work.
The first two meetings to send to the recycle bin are The Usual and The Kneejerk. Coming in close behind the two frontrunners is The Check-In. This one gets the “half” because it has the potential to be unbelievably valuable or an extraordinary drain on time and energy. It all comes down to how toned your meeting muscles are, especially the listening and flexibility ones. More on that in a bit, but first things first.
The Usual Meeting
Sometimes, meetings exist for the sole reason that they have always existed and thus they continue, relevant or not, in perpetuity.
I used to have a standing meeting on my calendar for an hour every Thursday. I called it my “punishment” meeting. No idea what ghastly thing I did in a past life to deserve it, but here it was on my calendar, taking up valuable real estate. Every. Single. Week.
Technically, it was a “team meeting,” but here’s how it usually went. Ten minutes on the weather and weirdly personal questions about our weekend plans, 25 minutes with one or two team members on the thing from last week’s meeting that hadn’t moved an inch, another 20 minutes venting about the things that really should be happening and aren’t, followed by cramming multiple updates from the rest of the group into the last few minutes of the call.
A box was ticked by having the meeting, but the meeting itself was of no value. There’s a better way to use this time.
Better Meetings Suggestion:
Be flexible with both the content and the attendees. It’s not the existence of a standing meeting that causes the problem, but the expectation that staff who are not relevant to the discussion are required to give a valuable chunk of time to a process that doesn’t meaningfully involve them.
Keep the meeting, adjust the attendees. Make your meetings synonymous with time well spent.
The Kneejerk Meeting
This is the meeting that should never be. It typically gets added, not requested, making it feel both urgent and necessary. But, more often than not, the person scheduling The Kneejerk is confusing urgent with important and busy with productive.
There are a few root causes of The Kneejerk. Generally speaking, The Kneejerk gets added when someone with the managerial juice to upend the schedules of their team is feeling uncertain about what’s happening, where they fit in the process, and what comes next. All of these feelings are valid, they just don’t need to result in a meeting that takes a team out of the flow of work to revisit deliverables that are already established. Here’s an alternative to consider.
Better Meetings Suggestion:
Improve your “between meeting” communication practices and reduce uncertainty by implementing a shared timeline. I love nerding out on Miro for this and creating a Gantt-style timeline with interactive cards for each item. When used consistently by everyone on the team, it’s easy to see keep deliverable-based anxiety at bay. With just a few clicks, you can see exactly what the decision points were from the last meeting, who has responsibility for each task currently in progress, expected completion dates for each, and what happens next. With all of this at your fingertips, it eliminates the need for The Kneejerk and, instead, ensures your team stays on task and on target.
Improve communication through transparent accountability so everyone on the team knows who has the ball, for how long, and why. Eliminate uncertainty while strengthening collaboration and teamwork.
Check-in meetings can be super helpful or intensely frustrating which is why they get the “half” and not the full ‘stop-doing-this’ treatment.
Whether the check-in is team-based or on-on-one, it’s effectiveness directly correlates to an openness to listen and respond to the other person/people involved.
I worked alongside a colleague who had incredibly valuable one-on-ones with her manager every week. She got a lot out of the process and felt like she walked away with clarity and support. Another colleague of mine hated her one-on-ones with a white-hot passion rivaled only by the sun. She found them to be reductive and unpleasant, rarely providing insight or direction.
They both had the same manager. So did I. Same manager who ran the weekly standing meetings from earlier in this article.
This is why The Check-In needs to be both versatile and personal in order to be effective.
This manager’s style wasn’t all good or all bad. But it definitely had room for adjustment and improvement that would have benefited each team member and, ultimately, the team as a whole.
Trying to use the same cookie cutter for every meeting fails to take into account the extraordinary value of the people at the heart of those meetings.
Better Meetings Suggestion:
Get to know the people on your teams. Know their expertise and what they need in order to be their whole – and best – selves at work. Ask about their preferred work styles so you can make space for autonomous, asynchronous, collaborative, etc. work. Listen to their validation preferences so you can deliver meaningful recognition in ways that are appreciated.
There is no shortcut here. People are at the core of project management and one can not thrive without the other.
When The Check-In is meaningful in content, duration, and frequency, it can be an invaluable source of motivation, collaboration, and guidance. When forced or off-target, it is inherently less effective and potentially damaging.
Two – and a Half – Opportunities to Improve
These two – and a half – meetings are prime opportunities to improve people and project management without much effort.
Essentially, it’s another way to practice the essential meeting question and adjust according to the answer.
Keep the meetings. Just improve the outcomes by clarifying the purpose, improving the “between meeting” communication, and personalizing check-ins to match the very people you’re intending to check in with.
A little bit of effort that can have extraordinary impact on your team and your goals! Here’s to doing productivity…differently.
If you’d like more on this topic, pick up a copy of my Start With Better Meetings book. Included along with it is free access to my Meeting Makeover Series Mini-Course with nugget-sized tutorials on improving the three most common meeting mishaps.