Home » Communication » Boycotting Meetings As A Project Management Tool

Meetings are seen as either the way we manage projects or the bane of efficient project management.  Can boycotting meetings really help us straighten this mess out?

I ran across an article by Peter Bregman talking about using three rules to decide if a meeting made sense or not:

When someone comes to you with a [meeting] request, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Am I the right person?
  2. Is this the right time?
  3. Do I have enough information?

If the request fails the test — if the answer to any one of these questions is “no” — then don’t do it. Pass it to someone else (the right person), schedule it for another time (the right time), or wait until you have the information you need (either you or someone else needs to get it).

This strikes me as a good notion if our meetings are not out of control (see how to avoid meeting madness).  If we are in an organization where the meeting is the way to get all work done, and the whole organization – it seems – wants or needs to be at every meeting, then this approach will probably just result in boycotting meetings, for no gain. As with any innovation, making the change individually to fix what is an organizational issue can leave us in a bad way.

My boss would ask me to call a meeting.  Instead I would put together a proposal (fixing issue X) and call up each individual and run it by them, updating it with their ideas.  When I finished with every individual, and thought I had something everyone would agree to, I’d e-mail it to everyone asking if this was good enough or if we needed a meeting.  Even if the meeting happened, it was usually short.  The whole process was always dramatically shorter than first calling a meeting.

Boycotting Meetings As A Project Management Tool

I had one boss who hated it when I did this.  Her main tool to manage was to call a meeting or to have her folks call meetings.  Not having a meeting was not doing the job and was contrary to her report to senior management that we were calling a meeting to deal with the issue!   Another senior manager would tell me “meetings are the way we manage!”

Sometimes we have to try and fix the system, not just boycott it. Often it is an organizational problem, not strictly individual bad practices, that need to be addressed.  I’ve observed that most organizations that were “meeting happy” had ineffective information sharing that resulted in the need for multiple meetings.  At one time the web page was going to solve this and now it is the social web tools and business intelligence.   In any event meetings are less necessary when information is shared often, completely and accurately.  Boycotting meetings might not be the best change management tool but it still might save you enough time to find a more permanent solution.

What is your method for keeping the number of meetings to a reasonable number in your project?

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7 thoughts on “Boycotting Meetings As A Project Management Tool

  1. Mitchel says:

    If you are looking for a great project management tool, you may have a look on http://teamplifier.com Hope you will find all in one here. Its a suitable alternative so far.

  2. The link at the top of this post points to the wrong article. I found the correct post and it was very interesting.

    1. Bruce Benson says:

      Bruce,

      I just checked it and it seemed to work fine for me. What did you get?

      Thanks for your concern.

      Bruce

  3. Redge says:

    Some managers equate meetings to taking action. As we know, this is far from reality.

    We establish a clear agenda and a commitment for deliverables from the team. Prior to commencing with the meeting, the agenda and deliverables are confirmed.

    Missing items are inexcusable as the date of the meeting was based on an established commitment. If team members are not able to deliver, they are to advise before the meeting so it can be “cancelled.” People are held accountable to each other and to the leadership accordingly.

    I highly recommend reading “Death by Meeting” written by Patrick Lencioni. An excellent tale that develops a strategy for holding effective meetings.

    Great article – thanks for sharing.

    1. Bruce Benson says:

      Redge,

      I once ran a global status meeting everyday at 8 am. We had about a hundred people on the call with a couple of dozen managers reporting their progress (everyone else listening or asking questions). I started immediately at 8 am and called on managers in order (we didn’t always get to everyone, so who started with each day changed based on who we finished with on the previous day – but everyone knew the order they would be up). A manager could get away with a “nothing new today” or “no updates” for one day. I looked for very specific reports (problem reproduced, problem understood, problem solution found, solution integrated, solution released, etc.) and held down the natural desire for drawn out discussions (“ok, talk with them off line for more details, next issue”). We got it down to an average of 1 minute per issue (these were product defects being discussed) and we would click through them rapidly. Folks admitted that while it was fast with limited discussion, everyone knew the status of issues once the meeting was over and we knew where we stood on the project each day.

      Before I took over this meeting, it was a chat fest that went on for several hours and we would hardly scratch the surface of all the issues that needed to be covered. In bringing control to the chaos I once cut off a senior manager who was going into a rant on why a problem had not yet been solved by saying “Janet, that is not useful now …” and moving on to the next issue. She stopped talking and let me keep going. Later, she would be promoted to a mid range VP and be my boss’s boss, but never seemed to hold it against me for cutting her off like that (in front of a hundred people). That was the kind of risks I had to take to bring some order to our crazy meetings.

      Holding people accountable is tough and often risky, but when we got there, it would make all the difference between organized success and chaotic failure.

      I’ll look up the book by Patrick Lencioni and consider adding it to my (ever growing) reading list.

      Thanks,

      Bruce

  4. Perry Wilson says:

    I don’t think boycotting meetings is a way to gain PM efficiencies. It’s certainly a way to get you labeled – not a people person.

    Making your meetings effective is the better approach. Everyone hates meetings that have no purpose, or run over their agenda.

    I like your approach to getting input for the “fixing the problem” it probably saved time for the people you called, how much extra time did it take you?

    1. Bruce Benson says:

      Perry,

      It didn’t take me any extra time and I liked being able to drive the solution as I usually had an idea of where we needed to go. There are people whom I trust to make good decisions and so I have no problem letting them take the lead to solve a problem and hence not need to have a meeting to decide if we’ve found the best approach. Too often, in many competitive environments, I’ve seen meetings used to collectively “control” who is doing what — so that no one person is seen as taking control or making decisions for the group (kind of a group think, where everyone is expected to run a race – but side by side and in step – no one getting ahead). My approach allowed me to get out and fix a problem fast but without making others feel I was charging off on my own without their input.

      Thanks!

      Bruce

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