Meeting management: A practical guide to killing pointless meetings

Pointless meetings. We’ve all seen them. We’ve all been in them. We’ve probably called a few ourselves. They’re so common the phrase “I survived a meeting that could have been an email” has its own merch. 

So, if we all hate useless meetings, why do they keep happening? And what can we do to prevent them moving forward?

Why do pointless meetings happen?

There are a few likely candidates for this common phenomenon. Determining the root cause will uncover the best way to put an end to it.

Too many cooks

Our first candidate is consensus culture (also known as “everyone has veto power”). In this culture, conversations have to happen with as many people as possible. The fear is that if one person is missed, work will need to be redone or changed once the feedback trickles in. So what’s the solution? Meetings! Meetings! Meetings!

Lack of trust

The next candidate – The Recurring Meeting – can happen for a few reasons. Some aren’t negative: building routine and habit into a team’s week and encouraging communication through regular stand-ups is great for productivity and development. 

But some recurring meetings happen because of a breakdown in communication and trust. For example, we often see pointless recurring meetings in leaders’ calendars. These are there because people are worried they won’t be able to secure time with the leader if it’s not locked in. Unfortunately, this can cause a vicious cycle, where the leader has less and less time to give, and so more and more pointless meetings are squeezed in. It’s not productive!

Lack of direction or experience

“We need to make progress, but don’t know what to do next, so let’s try a meeting!” Sound familiar?

Sometimes when a team is tackling something that’s never done before, or when it’s not clear what it’s trying to achieve, a meeting is put in as a solution to the unclear ‘next step.’ It’s understandable, but it’s also not productive for anyone.

Top tip: Be on the lookout for any meetings titled “working sessions.” Make sure that if you’re attending one, everyone is going to come prepared. This is when true collaboration can happen. Otherwise, you’ll spend most of the meeting getting everyone up to speed and giving them time to think.

Lack of good communication processes

We at One TEAM Partners are big believers that ‘Structure Determines Performance,’ meaning that the structures we have in place set us up for how we perform.

When a workplace does not have strong processes and structures to enable communication between teams, departments, and leadership, then well-meaning people are left with little choice but to schedule high-touch meetings for every important topic. 

On the flip side, in cultures where there is a central place to share updates, when there are routine avenues to communicate messages, well, you end up with fewer meetings.

How to stop pointless meetings

If there’s one particular culprit in your organization who is guilty of organizing pointless meetings regularly (perhaps it’s even you!), here’s what to do:

Before you schedule your next meeting or before you accept the next meeting invitation that comes your way, see if you’re able to answer the questions below:

  • Do you know what you want out of the meeting?
  • Are the right people able to attend?
  • Does the outcome require (or is it likely to require) real-time collaboration with more than one person? Or, is the information sensitive and likely to need some conversation to appropriately communicate the nuance?

If you’re answering “no” to any of these questions, chances are it won’t be a useful meeting.

If you’re the one who’s hosting the upcoming meeting, go ahead and cancel (or reschedule if you think you’ll be able to answer those questions with more preparation). If you’re an invitee, ask the host what the desired outcome is and what role you’ll play in helping the team get there. If they don’t have a clear answer, you should decline the meeting with a gentle explanation of why you’re doing so. 

But if pointless meeting culture is deeply ingrained in your organization, resetting it by declining meetings won’t effect the change you need. A team-wide, strategic realignment is required. This will involve building awareness (understanding what’s causing the problem), reimagining structure (building a process that fits the needs of your team), and building new habits. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. 

In fact, when we work with customers on meeting prioritization, it ends up saving them around 30 hours each month – giving people back almost four days of working time. 
If you are interested in hearing more about how we can support you in building a thriving team (one that’s empowered to make decisions, focused on strategy-driving goals, communicating effectively, and trusting in your leadership), book a consultation today. Let’s have a chat about productivity and team cohesion!

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