Most people simply accept meetings as a fact-of-life, as part of the process of doing the work they do. To most, meetings are a necessary evil, like being at the office by a certain time or working on a team with someone you don’t particularly like. It’s simply accepted that meetings have and always will be a part of the job and a waste of someone’s time.
Stop thinking of meetings as just a necessary cost.
Meetings aren’t the core of any business (except maybe ours) and meeting attendance is rarely in anyone’s employment contract. There is always something else you could be doing that is part of your core job description. Your job title might be almost anything but it probably isn’t “/meeting attendee”.
The time you’re spending in a meeting is time you’re taking away from doing the work the company hired you to do, which means you shouldn’t be attending just any meeting someone thinks to invite you to join. There are situations and jobs in which holding a meeting is necessary, but more often not, that isn’t the case when a meeting is called.
Start thinking of meetings as investments.
Every half hour spent in a meeting is a half hour spent not doing the job you were hired to do. Which means any meeting you attend should be one where your attendance has an obvious impact. Your time is being invested in the meeting and there should be a reason for that investment.
Viewing meetings as investments rather than unavoidable costs raises expectations – of the meeting organizer, of the meeting attendees and of the meeting itself. Instead of being an ineffective use of time, meetings are objective-driven and those objectives are clearly defined. There are many alternatives for information dissemination and planning. You could send an email, get on a group call (which tends to be shorter than a meeting), walk over to another colleagues desk, etc. Meetings force people to take time away from their official job for an extended period of time and to interrupt the flow of their work. When that happens, it should be because their attendance is adding more value than if they were focused on “regular” work.
Always ask “what’s the return?”
If you think of a meeting as an investment and ask “what’s the return?”, you’ll approach each meeting with a purpose and clear expectations. Before you schedule the meeting, you’ll know what you’re hoping the end result will be. Before inviting someone, you know what their contribution to the meeting will be. Walking out of the meeting, you’ll be sure to have the next steps planned out because the best time to take action is immediately, even if it’s just a small step.
In treating each and every meeting as an investment instead of just the cost of doing business, you’ll have clear and raised expectations for the meeting. This, in turn, is more likely to produce a measurable return. You’ll also have more attentive meeting participants and, most likely, fewer meetings to attend.