Do you remember the last time you attended a really great meeting? The kind where the team was energized, important information was shared, and critical decisions were made? More likely, you remember the terrible ones: the ones you didn’t really need to be at, where everyone was mentally checked out, or where that one colleague (you know who I mean) kept on asking questions, long past the point that everyone else was ready to go. Sure, sometimes a meeting is exactly what you need: a chance to get everyone in the same room and let magic happen. But other times a well-worded email or a group chat might suffice. So before you book the conference room, look through our checklist, and ask yourself, do you really need that meeting?
Do I have an agenda?
Before you ask all your colleagues to stop what they’re doing, make sure you know why you need a meeting. Do you have a clear agenda of things to raise or discuss? If not, take some time for strategic thinking around what you want to achieve with your meeting. Then write an actual agenda of points to address. That way you can share it with the team beforehand, they can arrive prepared, and you can make sure no one derails your meeting with other concerns.
Is this the most important job right now?
Our big State of Meetings Report points out that meetings have a productivity cost, in terms of time away from other tasks. Before you take people away from their work, make sure your meeting has a strategic value to your company. Likewise, ask yourself if this is the most important work that people need to be doing right now. Are there conflicting deadlines or is there a rush on? Would it be better to wait a day or two, so that people can wrap up current commitments? A good way to check whether a meeting is really critical, is to ask yourself “What would happen if we didn’t?”
Do I have all the information I need?
Ask yourself what you need in order to make progress. There’s nothing worse than introducing an issue, only to realise that you don’t have enough information to make a decision. Take some time to assemble the critical pieces of the puzzle before you even think about booking people’s time.
Is it need-to-know information?
Ask yourself who really needs to know. Is this a whole office affair, or is it relevant to a select few? Sometimes it could be more effective to just drop by the right people’s desks for a quick, one-on-one chat. If it is relevant to a bigger group, then check if all team members will be able to attend. If you’ll be summarising for some people anyway, maybe you can skip the meeting and simply send a summary of the issue to everyone. Finally, take some time to check people’s schedules, so that you know the people with the key information or the decision-making power will be available.
What other channels could I use?
We currently have more workplace communication tools than ever before at our disposal. These can be really efficient ways to keep people in the loop or reach a consensus. Need feedback on an idea? Email allows people to take more time to read a presentation and give considered feedback. As a bonus, you avoid the risk of groupthink, and allow people to voice opinions discreetly. Do you want a decision? Use a tool like Slack to start a discussion thread or ask people to vote on options. As a bonus, there’s no need to keep minutes – everything is already in writing, neatly stored in the thread. Do you need updates? Use project management boards like Trello, where people can add regular updates on projects for the whole team to see. As a bonus, you can also use boards to delegate tasks or track progress.
Is it time sensitive?
There’s nothing worse than sending out an urgent email and getting crickets in return. Group chats can be a good option for getting urgent feedback, but this might be one where a meeting really is the quickest way to get an immediate response.
Wrike have created a handy infographic to help you decide whether a meeting really is necessary. Because sometimes it is, of course. So if you go through our checklist and decide that you really do need to get everyone in the room together, then make sure it’s the best meeting it can be. One with a clear agenda, all the required preparation done, and the right people assembled. And then ask yourself just one more time, are you sure you couldn’t just email this?
Erin O’Loughlin is an Australian writer and translator, currently living in Berlin