25 September 2012

Unsuck Your Meetings

WAY back on Tuesday, August 1, the weekly #assnchat topic was productivity and time management, a personal favorite.

I didn't exactly do a rigorously scientific poll, but the #1 answer to "biggest productivity killer" was: meetings. Planned meetings, unplanned meetings, drop in meetings, "do you have a few minutes?" meetings - just about everyone hated meetings.

"Of course!", right?

Confession: I have an (earned) reputation as someone who is high-energy, highly productive, never misses a deadline (99% of the time, I deliver early), cranks out the work, usually at above-average quality.

I am about 1000% *more* productive now that I'm working for myself and not spending 25%-50% of each day in meetings.

(Look out, world.)

Given that everyone was sharing the hate for meetings, I pretty quickly posed the question: "how do we unsuck meetings?"

Answers included:
  1. People receive a formal agenda in advance. No agenda = no meeting. After all, if there's nothing you need to cover, why force everyone to sit around a conference table for an hour?
  2. There are defined outcomes. Again, if you're not trying to accomplish anything - or you don't know what you're trying to accomplish - why are you wasting everyone's time?
  3. Collaboration takes place. I'm not so sure about this one (more below).
  4. Clearly defined and communicated action items. This is more of a post-meeting item, but I agree that any decisions that are made need to be documented, any tasks that need to be done need the same, and you must assign responsibility and due dates.
  5. NO standing meetings. Ooooo. This is a tough one. If you have a busy, high-profile group, there's pressure to have standing meetings, or you fear not being able to get them together when you need them. On the other hand, if we dramatically cut down on the number of meetings we have (by, say, killing standing meetings), the problem might itself.
On the whole "collaboration" issue, I agree that TRUE collaboration can bring about better results. But it seems like "working collaboratively" has been dumbed down to "let's have a zillion meetings and include anyone and everyone who's even peripherally related to what's going on." And that demonstrably make us less creative and ultimately, less productive. Turns out, the best way to work in teams is to assign out pieces of the project to individuals, let them go away and do the work on their own, and come back together periodically but briefly to attack problems people need help with, and have ONE person (the project manager?) assigned to do the coordinating.

Finally, a thought exercise: the next time you're in some interminable, agenda-less, all hands on deck type meeting, look around the room. Who's there? Guesstimate her/his hourly rate (annual salary/2 and drop the thousands is close enough, plus about 30% for benefits - so $100K a year = $65 a hour), then add it up around the room and multiple times the number of hour/s you're all stuck there.

Does it still seem worth it?

Image credit: PGi Blog

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