Meeting Nightmares: How to Streamline Meetings and Get Work Done

The American economy continues to recover, but millions of people still need well-paying, full-time jobs. That being said, no job is perfect and some complaints are universal. One complaint almost every employee has about his or her job at one time or another is the amount of meetings. Many employers spend so much time holding meetings that necessary tasks don’t get done – and some employers then turn around and blame their workers for lack of productivity. This leaves employees frustrated and dissatisfied. Yet how does a workplace get around meetings? Aren’t they necessary? Today, we’re going to discuss when meetings are necessary, when they’re not, and how to streamline the ones you have to improve morale and employee retention.

Define When Meetings are Necessary

Before we can discuss eliminating meetings, we need to figure out which meetings are necessary, when, and for whom. Doing this successfully often comes down to how much you trust employees. For example, blogger Nelson Biagio, Jr explains a manager used to be defined as someone “in charge of a certain subset of a company, with a team…that reports to him or her.” Recently, the managerial position has evolved into something employers don’t recognize – “an individual who races through the halls to make the next meeting on time while also answering emails.” This often occurs because employers don’t trust their managers to complete the responsibilities they’ve been given. Alternatively, employers may trust their managers, but still feel uncomfortable when determining what to achieve in a certain period. They may be reluctant to delegate or have face-to-face conversations, leading to more emails, more phone calls – and yes, more meetings. In order to determine when a meeting is needed, the employer must be willing to trust, delegate, and ask questions as they arise rather than in a big meeting once a week.

Meetings are usually only necessary if their goals can’t be achieved any other way. Before you hold a meeting, ask yourself whether an email or phone call would be sufficient. If you have a long list of goals to get through, or if the potential meeting’s topic affects a large number of people, then you probably need a full meeting. Keep these other tips in mind as well:

  • Invite only those who need to be there. If you’re a charge nurse discussing a new cardiac procedure, you need cardiac nurses and physicians. You may not need the pediatric department.
  • Keep it short – 30 minutes or less is ideal.
  • Keep it positive. Meetings should not be called to scold employees, especially an individual or small group. Discuss grievances privately. If you need to talk about something an entire department is doing wrong, use “I” statements rather than “you” statements and collaborate on fixing the issue.

Streamlining and Eliminating Meetings

Be aware that meetings often happen because no one wants to be a linchpin. In other words, employees, no matter what positions they hold, hate the prospect of their ideas failing. They fear an unsuccessful idea or mistake will be blamed solely on them and they will have to shoulder harsh consequences. Thus, these employees or employers ask for meetings. Meetings imply consensus, which in turn implies that if an idea or goal fails, it’s no one’s sole responsibility. One of the best ways to eliminate meetings is to treat employees like adults. Encourage them to share ideas with you. Do not monitor them or try to force them to work in way that could be counterproductive. Hold employees accountable for their decisions, but don’t enforce consequences that are too harsh or that you can’t uphold for everyone. This way, employees’ confidence in their work and skills will build, and everyone can stay out of meetings.

Of course, useless meetings can happen in the best workplace. Again, “top down management” is often the culprit. The warmest, friendliest managers can be guilty of micro-managing their teams. This usually results in meetings for every change in company policy, question, and infraction that comes up. Executives like Jack Walsh of General Electric know that management is more about “building relationships” than ever before. Managers must learn that doing their jobs well doesn’t have to be a choice that forces a decision between hard work and innovation. They must learn to manage from the inside out rather than the top down, giving their team members room to create, learn, and grow. Instead of several weekly meetings for every question or policy change, try streamlining into one short weekly meeting or even better, a company email.

Managers and other employers can also streamline or eliminate meetings if they mark their calendars for work only time. Yes, that’s right – get out your calendar and pencil in time specifically for work. Once that time is written down, it cannot be interrupted for meetings. Make and stick to this commitment, and take care of meetings during other times. For example, hold a meeting first thing in the morning or right after a lunch break when people are resettling into work. This decreases transition time and the temptation to socialize before a meeting begins.

Before, During, and After Meetings

Keep these final tips in mind each time you hold a meeting:

  • Set a clear agenda. If someone is off topic, gently remind him or her to get back on task.
  • Hand out notes or pertinent materials 60-90 minutes before the meeting to reduce transition time and give employees time to formulate questions.
  • Designate someone to take notes during the meeting. That person might also be the one to point out off-topic discussions. Email or otherwise deliver the notes afterward.

Use spokespersons if your meeting will involve several teams. This will save time and keep people from interrupting or talking past each other.

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Stephanie Mccall

Stephanie McCall is a full-time freelance writer. She has written three books for the inspirational market. Two are from the same series, Fiery Secrets and Down Candy Cane Lane. Promise of a Future is a standalone novel. Stephanie lives in North Carolina, where she enjoys singing, theater, learning Spanish and French, and reading with her cat nearby.

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