“Sometimes deciding not to hold a meeting may be the best use of everyone’s valuable time.”
Few managers would disagree with that statement, which we found on the website of PPD Consultants. The engineering-services organization asks four questions to address the perpetual “to meet or not to meet” dilemma:
1. Is there a clear purpose for the meeting?
Strong examples: (a) to reach a decision; (b) to brainstorm for solutions to a problem; and (c) to promote a sense of accountability (by creating a public forum where one’s work is on display for all to see, so people push harder to deliver).
Weak example: to gather status-only reports for areas of little activity.
2. Should we meet now?
It may be logical to postpone the meeting if required information is missing or a critical team member is unavailable. Don’t be too quick on this trigger, however; you don’t want to cancel necessary meetings.
3. Is there a better alternative?
Information-only debriefs, such as status updates, can be done through email or other means. If the topics only involve two or three members, then an informal subgroup session may be wiser than an all-hands-on-deck meeting.
4. What if the meeting is not held?
Before postponing a meeting, consider: What would not be accomplished? How would team members react? How would senior managers react? If people are telling you that nothing would be missed (or implying as much by their absence or lack of interest), then you have your answer, which should lead you to either cancel the meeting or find ways to improve it.
When Perry Klebahn was CEO of Timbuk2, a maker of messenger bags and other accessories, he “originally conceived of the weekly meeting as a chance for staffers to get company news and ask hard questions,” Jessie Scanlon observed in BusinessWeek. “But his employees experienced them as a series of boring team status reports and rarely spoke.”
So, Klebahn clarified their purpose: “It’s not broadcasting information. It’s building a tribe.” After that, the meetings morphed from an announcement format to an open discussion.