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:
- Am I the right person?
- Is this the right time?
- 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.
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?