Decision tree to help quickly determine if holding a meeting makes the most sense.
Have I thought through this situation? When you don't have clarity about what you're doing on a project, it's tempting to schedule a meeting. But unless the meeting's intent is to structure the project, it's probably an inefficient use of your and your colleagues' time.
Do I need outside input to make progress?
Does moving forward require a real-time conversation?
Does the necessitate a face-to-face meeting?
Schedule and prepare for the meeting.
When both a 500-attendee event and a two-person discussion are referred to as "meetings," it's difficult to suss out a gathering's true purpose and to know how to prepare to make it successful. In order to have fewer, more purposeful meetings, we need a more robust vocabulary to describe them.
Meetings with just two people are conversations. 1:1 discussions need not be as rigorous--they aren't weapons of mass interruption, and humans are naturally good at them. So keep conversations casual, and hold them as often as you like.
Group work sessions: Most meetings involve planning and coordinating the work, not executing it, but sometimes people--writers, programmers, mathematicians--do huddle around a laptop or whiteboard to do real work together.
Brainstorm: Meetings where the primary goal is to generate ideas. Since these sessions are designed to maximize creativity, it's a good idea to play a warm-up game, get people standing and active, and give people permission to have fun--free of judgement and criticism.
Convenience meetings: Called primarily because managers have information to disseminate, saving boss' time by wasting the time of their colleagues.
Formality meetings: Rather than considering an issue and asking, "Is a meeting the best way to address it?" we treat the event as a given and ask "What issues do we need to address at this meeting?" This ensures we alwys find things to discuss, no matter how trivial they are.
Social meetings: Meetings called under the guise of collaboration or alignment when it's really connection we're after. Connection is a laudable goal, but meetings are a pretty lousy way to foster it; instead, invite people to a team-building activity, a retreat, or a party, but make it optional.
Decision-making meeting: A misnomer as it implies that the meeting itself is making the decision; but meetings don't make decisions, leaders do.
* High-stakes: You want to facilitate honest debate. Research shows that moderate task conflict leads to more accurate decisions, so demand candor, and encourage disagreement.
* Lesser stakes: the goal isn't to slow down, but to speed up. Propose a plan for moving forward, and focus on generating buy-in. Allow for disagreement and be prepared to revise your plan if participants offer good reasons. But aim for quick resolution so you can spend most of the time coordinating implementation.
Ask the same two questions:
Your first step when planning an important meeting should be to draft an initial set of goals based on the answers to those two questions. "Begin with the end in mind." Three to five short bullet points or sentences that articulate what you want to accomplish is more than enough.
But this can take time, could require multiple iterations before you have a straw-model set of objectives that are ready to be tested with other key meeting stakeholders, who should then be asked to review the list and identify any missing or unnecessary goals. Once everyone is aligned, agree and communicate to all other attendees that these objectives are locked in.
Here are some sample objectives from different types of meetings:
Regularly recurring weekly meeting
Executive team meeting
Last modified 14 April 2023