Our last post talked about the problems of over-collaboration: wasted time, burn- out of some of your most valuable people, and decision/action bottlenecks. Let’s start with something practical – smarter use of meetings as a collaborative tool. It’s not sexy, but it’s a solution that can save your team thousands of hours per month.
Most people don’t want to be viewed as un-collaborative or leaving someone out of the loop. Nor do we want to be left out of the loop ourselves. And technology has made scheduling and accepting meetings incredibly efficient. So, the meetings pile up. I can’t tell you the number of leaders I’ve worked with who tell me how easy it is to accept invitations without really knowing what the meeting is all about. Maybe they know it’s related to an important initiative, but they’re not sure exactly why they’re needed for the meeting.
So, the meeting goes on the calendar with all the others and the leader shows up. By the time they’re questioning whether they really need to be there, it’s often too difficult to extract oneself. So they’ve wasted 30 minutes or an hour, and they’ve wasted time physically or mentally coming and going to the meeting. What really matters about this? There’s the opportunity cost of not being able to tackle higher priority items.
The first solution to over-collaboration is to be intentional when planning, accepting and running meetings.
- Determine if you really need to meet. Does every one of your meetings have a clear purpose and intended results? Do you really need to meet every week? Every month? Can you cut the meeting from 60 to 30 minutes? If it’s just to share information or it’s a low value meeting that seems more habitual than helpful, get rid of it altogether.
- Be a better meeting leader. How organized are you? Consider must-have versus nice-to-have agenda items. Set expectations and put targeted time limits on the agenda items. Are you managing the discussion? Is the person who always talks forever encouraged to get to the point? Fight the “collaborative” urge to hear what every single person has to say on every single topic. Do you know how to artfully table an item when you don’t have the right information or the right people at the table to make a decision?
- When you’re planning your meetings, think about each person you are inviting. Why do they need to be there? Do they have critical information? Are they needed to make a decision? Are they there only for internal political reasons? Are you making an intentional decision to include them or are they invited because they’ve always been at this type of meeting in the past? Talk with them and encourage them to speak about whether this is a good use of their time.
- Don’t make attendance all or nothing. Can one person represent one or more additional people at the meeting? Can some people be invited only for certain meetings or segments of meetings? Maybe they can dial in or show up at a specific time. If you only need me for 10 minutes of a 60-minute meeting, that’s 50 minutes I can spend on other pressing matters.
- Be intentional when you receive a meeting invitation. Ask yourself the following questions: Why am I invited to this meeting? What value will I add to the meeting and the organization’s goals by attending? What will my role be? Is this an opportunity for someone else on my team?
- Give yourself and others permission to say no. Too often we feel like we can’t decline a meeting invitation. It means we aren’t a ‘team player.’ Permit yourself and others to decline meetings. Teach people how to say no effectively and respect it what someone else says no. Executives who lead by example can create a culture that makes it acceptable, even desirable to limit how many people attend how many meetings.
Look at the meetings on your calendar over the course of the next month. Which can you decline going forward? Which can you delegate to a team member? Are there some you can attend only part of?
Let’s say you remove just 3 meetings per week for a total savings of 120 minutes, which equates to 8 hours per month. Now multiply that times the number of people on your team… or by the number of people in your company. How many hours do you come up with?
What’s the value of hundreds or thousands of hours per quarter better spent on addressing your business challenges? What’s the value of collaborating more intentionally?