You have 10 projects on the go and deadlines coming out of your ears when your colleague utters those much-feared words. “I think it’s best we all meet to discuss it,” they say. “We’ll only need half an hour.”
But you know. You know that half an hour meeting will turn into a couple of hours. And that your boss will still expect you to deliver the report you’re working on by the end of the day, even if you’re meeting to discuss it.
Unnecessary meetings suck the hours out of your busy days, wasting your time and that of colleagues. Charity communicators are involved in far too many of them because we work across departments. I have found myself in a meeting with people from finance arguing about the merits of moving a comma. And a lengthy web analytics meeting with a digital team who presented no statistics at all.
I think it’s time charity communicators took a stand. At a time when our teams are being cut and workload increased, I think we should push back on unnecessary meetings.
I’m not advocating a “No meeting” policy. Good meetings ensure everyone is on board with your project, knows when and what input is expected of them and lead to concrete actions. They’re completely necessary and make good use of donors’ money. Unnecessary meetings waste it.
So, here are five meetings I think we shouldn’t be having and ideas for what might work instead.
1. A brainstorm that lasts longer than 20 minutes. I was once in a three-hour brainstorm meeting. By the end, I think ideas that were rejected to begin with were welcomed with open arms. Really, meetings to brainstorm ideas should not last longer than 20 minutes because attendees will lose focus and inspiration. To avoid this, circulate proposed questions/topics ahead and ask attendees to bring three ideas with them.
2. Meetings about second drafts – when no one has read the first. Always ensure that you give people enough time to read the first draft of anything you produce. Don’t meet if you haven’t received people’s comments in writing first. Discussion will be more helpful when you’ve had time to digest feedback and decide what you would like to clarify. If people haven’t read your first draft, delay the meeting. If you go ahead, they’ll only feedback later and it could create problems, wasting resources.
3. Meetings with external agencies that could be done on the phone. Most agencies will charge for meetings, even if they don’t make it clear that they do. Check this by clarifying with suppliers if they’ll charge for a meeting you invite them to. Consider setting up a conference call or using Skype instead. Try using Google documents to share spreadsheets and presentations – you can update them as you’re on the call.
4. Agenda-less meetings. No agenda means no focus. The meeting without an agenda is likely to meander from topic to topic. Attendees won’t have time to prepare and gather their thoughts because the aim of the meeting isn’t clear. People are more likely to resent being at these kinds of meetings and are therefore less likely to contribute to discussion.
5. Meetings about projects that won’t be happening for a few months. It’s not a good idea to gather people together before you, or the person calling the meeting, has anything concrete to ask or delegate. An email, phone call or chat at a colleague’s desk could work instead. Often, this will end up being a meeting about a future meeting. Of course, it’s brilliant to plan far ahead and to get time in people’s diaries but you don’t need to meet until you know what you need from others.