Email is A Problem, But Meetings Are the Collaboration Issue.


“Has everyone got a drink, lots of paper, a pen and a device? Good, Dave is still not here, but let’s start the meeting anyway.”

Future of work experts like to focus on email as a source of ills. There are many cases where emails can be avoided by more social forms of communication. Undoubtedly, there is much information in email that would be better shared other ways. Email takes up a lot of time, but there is far greater danger to productivity and effectiveness in our organisations: meetings.

The Cost of Meeting Culture

The real challenge in organisations is the meeting culture.  Efforts to become more collaborative, inclusive, decisive and to mitigate risks have results in a marathon series of pointless meetings. There is no research suggesting that our current level of meetings are a great idea. Research from Verizon and Atlasssian suggests between 25-50% of meetings are wasted. 45% of people admit to being stressed by how many meetings that they have.  We spend hours preparing documents for meetings that don’t scratch the surface of the discussion required. In a world in which all other forms of management are subjected to performance scrutiny meetings escape attention because they are where managers try to create performance scrutiny.

Reflect on your last 24 hours of meetings. How many of those meetings were:

  • required to be held at that time, started on time and finished when the work was done?
  • had exactly the right people in the room and the right pre-work had been done?
  • effectively chaired to stay on topic, engage all participants and achieve an outcome in the minimum time required?
  • had a clear purpose, sufficient information for the conversation and a defined outcome with clear next steps?
  • kept a record for later review of the information considered, the relevant discussion and any decisions or actions required?
  • were back-to-back with another meeting that allowed no time for personal reflection or preparation?

Running great meetings is an art, but these basic needs are just the tools of a great meeting. Too many meetings are called without regard for these basic needs. Nothing in that list above is meeting rocket science. These are the fundamentals of thinking through purpose, timing, audience, pre-work, agendas and outcomes.  In most organisations you need approval to spend $500 but you can waste thousands of dollars of salary costs by calling a meeting without any of the above basic preparation even considered.

Replace Meetings

We use meetings for five main purposes:

  • Gathering Information
  • Sharing Information
  • Discussing Issues
  • Making Decisions as A Group
  • Building personal rapport

The first two purposes are almost always better done using other ways outside of meetings. How many hours would you save by removing these meeting from your diary? Move the gathering and sharing of information to tools designed for this purpose. At least this step will at least halve the length of your meetings.

There are alternative, and often better, ways of managing the next two of these purposes than a meeting. Requiring everyone to have been seen in the same room or teleconference for a decision to be made or for work to count suggests work needs to be done on an organisations culture of personal accountability and trust.

Even for building rapport, extensive experience with social tools shows rapport can be built without a meeting when people have seen each others style of interaction and understand their positions, talents and contributions.

Bad meetings are the reason most executives doubt the effectiveness of collaboration. Managers who have experienced bad meetings struggle to see how collaborative work is not time-wasting, indecisive or lacking in accountability. The way to fix the collaboration problem in organisations is not more meetings. It is to replace meetings with ways of working that are far more effective at achieving value.

An awful lot of the wasteful emails are setting up, sharing documents or following up on bad meetings. Let’s fix the collaboration problem at its source. Make meetings the last resort as a way of working.

If you’d like to improve the effectiveness of the meetings, collaboration and work in your organisation, get in touch with Simon Terry.

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