When Not to Meet

by | Organizational Change

11 Reasons Not to Meet

Why would a meeting facilitator like me encourage clients NOT to meet? I want your time to be well-spent. I want you to get your best work done. When you meet I want your meetings to help you do that. Calling a meeting is a default behavior, and unless we’re intentional and mindful, meetings may actually undermine our efforts.

Part of what makes so many meetings frustrating and inefficient time-wasters are these all too common pitfalls. Don’t meet:

  • If you can’t clearly articulate the purpose. Don’t meet unless the goal is clear and you communicate it in advance so everyone knows what to expect.
  • To review or go through a document unless everyone has read it (and even then, beware). Distribute the document first with a clear deadline for review. If you can’t get feedback or test understanding via email, use the meeting to answer informed questions, clarify impact, discuss reactions, or plan implementation. But don’t walk through the document. Don’t read the slides.
  • Out of habit. Most organizations hold standing meetings. Typically these are weekly team, committee, or departmental meetings. All hands meetings may take place every year, quarter, or more often. And most of the time these meetings have predetermined times and dates — times and dates that do not necessarily respond to important events or relate to the amount of time the work conducted in between meetings will take. Resist the urge to do this! And please don’t set the length of the meeting until you’ve figured out the goals. Some goals can be accomplished much more quickly than an hour; others need much longer.
  • If the right people can’t be there. If a decision is needed the decision maker(s) should be there. If input on a change is needed, those effected by the change should be there. If you’re planning, invite the implementers. If expertise is needed, invite those with pertinent skills and experience. Having the right people at the table at the right time is much more efficient. (Coming Soon: Who’s At the Table?)
  • Conversely, don’t meet with a larger group if the work can or will be done by a few. But don’t rule people out based on rank. Just make sure the purpose of the meeting is relevant to those who attend.
  • Without an agenda. Be sure to circulate the agenda in advance. (And no, five minutes before the start time by email doesn’t count.) (Coming Soon: Creating Agendas)
  • Too soon. If you haven’t completed scheduled work, reschedule your meeting. Don’t meet because it’s on the calendar. Likewise, don’t schedule successive meetings without paying attention to how much progress can realistically be made between meetings.
  • Too late. If the window in which you could implement changes has closed, don’t meet on that project. Debriefing is helpful as long as the lessons learned can indeed lead to process or outcome improvement. Rehashing an event isn’t great fodder for a meeting.
  • With insufficient information. Don’t come ill-prepared. People project into the void: that’s what we do. We jump to conclusions and fill in blanks with stories, and often make decisions or pass judgments without the whole story. Too often decisions are made based on assumptions. Identify, gather, and learn what you need to know before sitting down to meet.
  • Unless roles are clear. In addition to sharing a clear purpose before the meeting, be sure everyone coming understands their role. Roles depend on meeting type: attendees can be decision-makers, idea-generators, planners, information recipients. Make sure they know what role they will take in advance. And again, make sure you’re inviting the right folks to each meeting. Check out my post on Meeting Types (Coming Soon: Meeting Roles)