Does This Meeting Need to Happen? 4 Questions to Ask Before Scheduling

April 3, 2013 by

Rarely do I read a blog with as much widespread appeal as this account of Michael Lopp’s critique of meetings. The majority of employed human beings spend a good chunk of their day in meetings, usually without ever thinking about why they’re there or what they should be talking about. This is particularly true at small companies, where the instinct to be inclusive can backfire and lead to a ton of wasted time.

Have Fewer Meetings that Are More Productive: 4 Questions to Ask Before Scheduling

Image provided by: Matt Rehnstrom

Michael Lopp wants to help prevent that, and after reading his argument, so do I.

Have Fewer Meetings that Are More Productive: 4 Questions to Ask Before Scheduling

Before clicking send on a meeting request addressed to my email address (or anyone else’s, for that matter), ask yourself the following four questions:

1) Am I looking for a discussion, or just an update?

Emails, spreadsheets, and text messages are usually sufficient for one-way updates. They fall short when there are questions that need to be answered and differences that need to be resolved.

If you absolutely need my feedback before proceeding, it’s fine to schedule a meeting with me. If not, just send it to me in a format that I can read at my leisure, or not at all.

2) Does everyone really need to be involved?

The Lopp post finally put a name to something I’ve long struggled with: scale tax. A decision that can be made in one minute by one person always takes longer than three minutes when there are three people asking questions and debating solutions.

That’s not to say the outcome isn’t better when you include an additional viewpoint; it often is. But adding the fourth or fifth person implicitly commits you to including them in the decision, even if their contrary opinions take an extra half hour to resolve. Excluding someone from a meeting doesn’t mean you don’t respect his or her opinion, it just means that different people have different responsibilities, and this particular topic doesn‘t require their input.

3) Should this meeting really be two meetings?

Occasionally, you may run into a scenario where you need to discuss Item A with Person 1 and Item B with Person 2, so you schedule one meeting to cover both. This may seem like it economizes on time, but do these two people care about each other’s items? If not, you’re all better off with two meetings instead of one.

4) Is there a better time to discuss this?

Over the course of any given day, a working man or woman will invariably come up with questions and comments for his or her colleagues, many of which the same working man or woman could easily resolve in a few minutes without their colleague’s help. Scheduling a reoccurring meeting to answer all questions related to a single topic cuts down on distracting ad-hoc meetings, while still leaving a venue to ask the truly important questions.

*****

Meetings are extremely valuable in certain situations, but my sense is that if everyone thought more critically about why, when, and with whom they’re meeting, there would be a lot less of them. That means more time for everything else.

Are too many meetings hijacking your productivity? What are other ways you can ensure each meeting is absolutely necessary?

  • http://www.kranzcom.com Jonathan Kranz

    Other crucial questions:

    “Where are the donuts?”
    “Is this coffee fresh, or is this the leftovers from yesterday’s meeting?”
    “Are these the white board markers or the permanent markers?”
    “Hey, who watched Girls last night?”
    “Is Bob coming to this meeting? ‘Cause Bob’s an idiot. I hate Bob. Oh, hi Bob. We were just looking for you.”

  • kamesh

    Very well said. Small activities like these go a long in improving productivity.

  • Jeffrey Steinke

    A corollary to #2 is having a good meeting culture in your organization that encourages good notes & meeting follow-up.

    If you can rely on someone who did go taking notes & sending them out in a timely manner, it makes it much easier to skip meetings you know you don’t need to be at – a win-win for everyone involved.