“Meetings without an agenda take considerably longer than those with a clear and concise plan.”
You’ve tried saying no. You’ve tried asking why. You’ve tried turning up with a passive aggressive slogan mug and yet, you’re still spending five days a year in “pointless” meetings and 40% more of your time on Zoom meetings than you did pre-pandemic. Which, while irritating, also prevents you from getting to your core tasks and those extra projects that help your career progress.
What can you do? To paraphrase, you can start working creatively, not longer (or smarter, not harder depending on your leanings) and manage upwards to avoid meeting overload.
For many of us, changing company culture is not in our paygrade. Well, it needs to be if you want to progress. Introducing a more effective way of working will show the senior team how creative, problem-orientated and influential you are – as you encourage an entire team to adopt a new way to do things better.
So what are the key things you can do to make for better, more effective meeting outcomes?
Insist On An Agenda
Meetings without an agenda take considerably longer than those with a clear and concise plan. This is because attendees waste valuable time at the start of each meeting learning what it is about, formulating their viewpoint and trying to understand their role and its expected outcomes.
Lead by example, and the next time you’re invited to a meeting ask the organiser for an agenda. Simply explain that your time is limited and so to ensure you contribute in a meaningful way you’d like to understand what’s expected of you and others so you can prepare ahead of the call. If they say no, or an agenda never materialises, address it at the start of the meeting so others are aware of your suggestion.
Share Peaks & Pits
Do you share your mistakes or failures with others? Here is why you should: In an ideal world meetings involve the coming together of different team members with independent views which when combined will progress a project – right? But if nobody shares their failures then it’s hard for a team to avoid making the same mistakes twice. Especially in creative industries where we are quite often trying to reinvent the wheel.
A quick scan of several interviews with leading CEOs, COOs and entrepreneurs shows that they are in favour of total transparency around both success and failures. Encouraging a weekly company-wide meeting, which includes top level achievements, experiments and failures, means that any meeting to follow ensures all staff are better informed on key developments so question time can be kept to a minimum. Start small, and implement this approach on your own team, letting others notice your reduced meeting time.
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Are you the organiser of the meeting? If yes, then it’s time to get real and question your own motives.
What is your reason for scheduling this meeting? If it’s to give the impression that a project is further along than it actually is, think again, this is not a good use of time.
Are you holding the meeting because you’re stuck on a task and need help? Or, are you holding the meeting because you don’t know what to do next on a certain project? If the answer is yes to any of the above, then you don’t need a meeting, you need a reality check.
If you’re at a dead end on a project, isolate yourself, concentrate and try to solve the problem. That way when you go to colleagues by scheduling a brainstorming session, you already have efforts and suggestions they can use as a jumping off point, thus pushing the project forward.
Does your passive aggressive mug say “I’ve just survived another meeting that could’ve been an email”? If yes, then your team needs to change tack. Scheduling a meeting and chatting with colleagues is the easy way out – and a total time suck. If your meeting reasoning is clear and you have an agenda, then you should be able to write a short, articulate and concise memo outlining pain points, next steps and room for improvement. Responses to that memo will form the agenda of the actual meeting.
Stick To The Schedule
Meeting scheduled for 30 meetings? Then cut off time wasters, wafflers and anyone hogging the room to keep things on track. Meetings that run over obviously impact the rest of the day, but also were likely to have been chaired and scheduled by somebody who doesn’t really understand what they need help with. Show them how it’s done.
Learn To Say No
This is as much about setting boundaries on your time and prioritising more important projects as it is about leading by example. The skill here is to learn how to say no without burning bridges and encouraging a more transparent culture company wide – see above. Instead of just hitting “reject” on the calendar invite, reach out to the organiser with some questions.
Explain that you saw the invite but that before you RSVP you want to make sure you understand what’s expected of you to ensure you contribute in a meaningful manner. Start by asking about the meeting itself and its primary purpose, move on to questioning why you were invited and what they hope your attendance will bring to the group.
If the answer is fuzzy or unclear, it’s time to be super direct. Explain that without a clear agenda you’ll sit out the initial planning stages and join future meetings once there’s a concrete understanding of your expected role.
Once colleagues see you achieving more by working smarter, expect to see this approach catch on.
By Aisling O’Toole
And remember, if despite your best efforts your career is stalling due to company culture, explore the dozens of vacancies on the Alt A Job Board
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