How to make Meetings WORK



I have recently come to realise that I have quite a few meetings in a week. Now as an academic (to be), the amount of meetings I have probably pales in comparison against the dreaded meetings that people seem to have in the realm of business. But still, I have often wondered whether having these endless meetings actually serve a purpose. And whether there are more productive ways of going about it. So I have put together a quick checklist to establish whether to meet, or not to meet! Does it NEED to be a meeting? Meetings are a hassle. You need to be in the same place (or online platform) at the same time (taking timezones into account). as someone else, or even multiple people. So first question: does it have to be a meeting? Can it be done through a very simple e-mail exchange or pre-recoded video-message? E-mails have the advantage that everything is written down. Video messages have the advantage that they are more personal. Both can be written/recorded whenever is convenient for the person making them, rather than having to take out a full hour of their day. One of the biggest drawbacks is that, as people are doing this in times that are convenient for them, you are bound by their replies. If they take forever to reply, you cannot move on either. So this tip is mainly for non-urgent matters. If it is more urgent, a quick call might be more helpful (emphasis on the quick). The main reason why not everything should be a meeting: no one wants to come out of a meeting thinking: "what a waste of time, this could have been done in an e-mail." Spontaneous or scheduled? This ties in very much with the last point regarding the phone call: sometimes you just need something quick from someone. A yes or no answer, a greenlight, or a five-minute opinion. Now if you try to set-up a meeting for this, that process might take longer than the actual meeting itself, which is useless. If you have their number, a quick message or phone call might be much more helpful than starting the process of meeting up formally. So if it can be dealt with quickly, spontaneous approaches might work better. If you happen to be in the same location (or in close proximity) to them, a face to face might be even faster. Granted you are not massively interrupting something that is. But if you are, they'll probably tell you and reschedule on the spot. Tadaaa! If your issue is definitely not a quick one, again ask yourself: does it have to be a meeting? If so, it is time to schedule it in properly. In that case you will need to approach whomever you need to have in this meeting. If it is a small meeting (you + less than 3), e-mail could work. If the group is bigger than that, doodle polls or similar approaches can help navigating through the slew that is planning. Come prepared Now the meeting has been planned and people have actually showed up. Great. Now what? It seems to be etiquette that the person calling the meeting has some plan for it. If that person happens to be you, you should have a plan for it. Why did everyone have to come to this meeting. What do you want to have done by the end of it? If you start a meeting expxlaining this points, everyone is on the same page and knows what they are working towards, making the whole process much more efficient. So preparation is needed. It is also possible that you are not the leader, but a participant in this meeting. Still, you need to come prepared. Try figuring out what the person who called the meeting wants. Because what they want might require some preparation on your part. Even if you are not the one calling the meeting, you might have other questions or other issues you want to discuss as well. It is smart to let the "meeting-leader" know this beforehand, so they can take it into account. If you have called a meeting and you do want people to prepare something for it, you need to let them know explicitely. Although I do recommend for participants to use their brain and take some perspective, that will very rarely lead to 6 hours of additional work to get something finished in time so the meeting flows better. If it's not explicitely mentioned, people won't do it, simply because they might not see the need for it. So definitely mention this when setting up the meeting! Don't prolong the inevitable Now imagine that you have taken out a full 2 hours in everyone's day to meet. This might sound intense, but quite often this might be necessary to work on group projects, make sure everyone is on the same page, or have a long brainstorm session before the real work even begins. But after 1 hour and a bit you start realising that it's not going well. Maybe it's the end of the day, the end of the week, during a stresful period or just not a good time. Just stop. Meetings are supposed to be productive. If they are not, give people a break. This can be a quick break in a long meeting to get some coffee and fresh air, or just an overall break, where the meeting is ended with the promise to reconvene another time. Shit happens. This phenomenon doesn't just work for meetings that span multiple hours. If you have a meeting that is only supposed to take 30 minutes, but all issues are resolved within 10, there is no real reason to stick around. Time is precious, so don't waste it. This meeting was supposed to end sometime anyway, it might as well be now! Don't meet for the sake of meeting

In line with the point made above: don't waste someone's time if there is no point in meeting at all! A lot of businesses , research groups and university departments have weekly meetings. And I have come out of these meetings thinking: "this could have been an e-mail..." Which is exactly what we are trying to avoid here. Now for institutions like this it might be more difficult to change, but to me as a person this matters. Because apart from the PhD, I am also involved in WBIT (Warwick Behavioural Insights Team). WBIT has three groups: Board, Engagement and Research (Nudge Unit). The latter two meet every week to make sure everyone knows what to do for each event and what steps need to be taken for the nudges. However, the nudge unit holds open meetings. If the members don't feel it is useful for them or their research to attend that week, they don't come to the meeting. If the engagement team has no events to run (unlikely), or it can be arranged via e-mail (more likely) they do not meet either (although overall they meet at least once a week). The board doesn't meet on a weekly basis either, because there is no real point to it. No point? No meeting! And that is how it should be. As I said before, meetings can be a hassle: everyone has to be at the same at the same time. But if there is nothing to say, there is nothing to say! If you can't even send an e-mail about it, because there is too little content, there should definitely not be a meeting...




So that is my checklist: only have meetings when necessary and not for the sake of it and when you do have them come prepared enough to make them useful. Seems like a lot of words to express something that should be common sense, but if it were such common sense I wouldn't keep being trapped in all these useless meetings. How do you feel about meetings? Do you think they add value to your work, or do they just eat away at the time you have to actually do your work? Let me know!

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