How to kill a needless meeting

Recurring meetings steal a ton of time. Here’s how leaders can decide whether and how to kill a meeting
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By nature, IT work requires a significant amount of coordination and collaboration, both within the function and with other parts of the business. That means most IT leaders and their teams spend a significant portion of the day in meetings.

“However, when meetings lack a clear purpose, the roles of participants are unclear, and there isn’t an agreed-upon process, these meetings become time-wasting, energy-sapping experiences,” says Dick Axelrod, who, with his wife Emily Axelrod, co-founded leadership and organizational consultancy The Axelrod Group and co-wrote “Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done.” “As a result, meeting participants disengage from the work when they need to be engaged in the work.”

Many of these meetings may be unnecessary. Jeannie Griffin, VP of product and technology solutions at BCD Meetings & Events, estimates that as many as half of the internal meetings individuals attend are unwarranted.

It is difficult for teams to know or understand when to invite internal technology resources.

In addition, given the rise of cross-functional teams, IT leaders and their teams may find themselves pulled into meetings where their presence does not add value. “It is difficult for teams to know or understand when to invite internal technology resources to the conversation, so the invitation tends to get extended before involvement is required and the problems and items are clearly defined,” says Griffin.

Mismanaged meetings can also lead to even more meeting proliferation. When original meetings are unproductive, takeaways or follow-up actions are unclear, or agendas are overambitious, the end result is – you got it – yet another meeting.

You can try a number of ways to improve meetings that need to happen: Switching to standing or walking meetingsincorporating design thinking, or just considering how our brains operate can help.

[ Read also: 10 TED Talks to sharpen your communication skills. ]

However, sometimes a meeting just needs to go away. Here are some steps IT leaders can take to determine whether and how to kill a meeting:

Create a meeting policy

“It should come from the top that meetings are important, but they need to be effective,” says Griffin, who has helped developed policies within organizations that clearly state the meeting needs to have an agenda (including recurring meetings), a call-in number, guidelines, and note distribution, for a start. “Most importantly, you don’t have to attend meetings that don’t have this structure,” Griffin says.

Examine the goals of recurring meetings

Perhaps the issue has largely been solved. Is the meeting helping with team-building?

Ask whether the goal has changed over time, or whether perhaps the issue has largely been solved. “I do this all the time with ongoing meetings,” says Griffin. “Many times [meetings] tend to carry on because we aren’t thinking critically of what we need to address and get stuck in routines.”

Sometimes meetings continue on long after outcomes are produced simply because people enjoy the relationships they have developed with each other. “In these instances, the meeting is serving a team-building function and you might ask if this is the best way to meet this need,” Axelrod says.

Ask if the meeting will change anything

“If the answers to the questions ‘What do you want to create because this meeting takes place?’ or ‘What do you want to be different because this meeting takes place?’ do not energize you or the meeting participants,” says Axelrod, “you should not be meeting.”

At the end of a meeting, IT leaders can ask if the time was worthwhile. “It could be that the reason for meeting is important, but it was not time well spent because the meeting processes were inefficient. In that case, you need to improve the way the meeting was conducted,” Axelrod says. “However, if the reason that meeting was not time well spent was that purpose of the meeting lacked meaning for the participants, you should stop meeting.”

Explore alternatives: Could this meeting be an e-mail?

Pause before sending out your next meeting invite. “If your sole purpose is to share information that does not require discussion, the obvious choice is an email or shared drive,” says Axelrod. “If the conversation requires a few people, a simple phone call will do.” Blogs and collaborative workspaces are options as well, adds Griffin.

Institute regular meeting reviews

“Another tactic is making all teams do a quarterly assessment of series meetings and strategically eliminate a certain percentage to address inefficiencies,” Griffin says.

Make sure you have buy-in

When the meeting extends beyond the technology group, “it may be serving a coordinating purpose with functions outside of IT,” says Axelrod, noting that IT leaders should discuss the issue with the stakeholders involved before making a unilateral decision to nix a meeting.

“If there is concern about removing a meeting, that should give you pause…maybe that meeting or series needs to be repurposed,” says Griffin.

Resist going on a killing spree

“Often there is a push to kill unnecessary meetings without thinking about meeting improvement strategies,” says Axelrod. “If you all you do is purge unnecessary bad meetings without improving the ones that remain, all you get is fewer bad meetings.”

[ Read our related article: Stand-up meetings: 5 reasons to kiss traditional meetings goodbye. ]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.