The Most Important Question to Ask Before Planning a Meeting

“Nothing productive happens in a meeting,” cautioned Ted Deeley, a retired executive vice president of a Fortune 500 company. “So many times it seems we have meetings just so people can hear themselves talk.”

Ted’s perspective may not be far off the mark. Business solutions company Atlassian reported most employees attend 62 meetings monthly, with half the meetings considered time wasted. For an hour meeting, this means 31 hours spent in unproductive meetings each month! 

So how can we improve our meeting time? There are five important questions to ask when it comes to company meetings. The first four involve meeting planning and are:

  1. Why are we meeting? Be clear on the purpose, agenda and expected outcome of each meeting.
  2. Who is meeting? Generally speaking, meetings become unwieldy when approaching 10 attendees. As Google VP of Business Operations Kristen Gil noted, “Attending meetings isn’t a badge of honor.”
  3. When are we meeting? Avoid Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, as people are generally getting into the workweek frame of mind or preparing for the weekend. It is also respectful to choose meeting times that fall within normal workday hours, unless you are trying to accommodate global time zones.
  4. Where and how will we meet? Meeting effectiveness drops off when solely on a phone call. Why? Attendees often multitask and do not fully contribute to the meeting. One way to challenge this is to keep meetings short, ideally under 30 minutes. Face-to-face meetings and videoconferencing are alternatives that keep attendees engaged.

But far more important than the four planning questions is a question that became clear to management of a global high-tech company that was feeling the strain of too many meetings. Michael Poole, the SVP, wanted to help his people. “Let’s put together a consolidated list of all the regular meetings everyone attends, so we can review and rationalize,” he announced.

Michael was stunned to learn some of his staff consumed over 40 hours each week on scheduled, recurring meetings. The employees were relying on meeting cancellations to provide calendar breaks.

With a consolidated calendar in place, the staff then discussed the value of each meeting, and proceeded to eliminate those that were unnecessary. This company also explored “meeting-free Fridays” as a way to force some free time to accomplish other work.

It was a valuable lesson for this company, and one that we can all learn. In short, the most important question to ask before planning a meeting is: Do we need this meeting?


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