Such a nuisance. Whenever it comes to a complex topic, we hear cries for meetings. In a manner of speaking, they're right: We often come up with new ideas and alternatives when we talk about something live and in person. In theory, meetings are a helpful tool, even if they do demand the participant's physical presence and a great deal of their attention.
However, in practice, things are often quite different. We catch ourselves constantly checking our phones. In long, boring meetings you sometimes even see people getting out their laptops and quite openly working on their emails or other tasks. Everyone has to attend but not everyone is interested in the topics at hand.
So it isn't unjustified when we say:
Meetings are one of the most lethal threats to effective collaboration in the workplace.
I am making my case to combat this collaborative dysfunction. Businesses need to focus more on asynchronous communication. Technologies to support this switch have been around for a long time now. It is possible. There's no need to spend half of the working day in meetings (and the other half answering emails). Employees need to be able to manage their workload within their normal working hours rather than it bleeding into their evenings and weekends.
If you ask me, these rooms could be left empty more often: the meeting rooms in our offices
I don't want to go into too much detail just yet about how Confluence (knowledge management), Linchpin (company intranet), and Jira (task management) can all help with this. However, these three pillars support organizations as they adapt to a culture of collaboration, one which is not based on meetings and emails.
So let's stick to the topic of meetings for now.
Meetings should be a last resort, not the go-to solution
In their book "It does not have to be crazy at work", authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier argue that companies should be much more careful with their employee's time. One 60-minute meeting with eight people eats up a total of eight working hours. Nowadays it's just too easy to plan a meeting: Shared calendars make it easy to quickly find a time slot and automatically send out invitations. That means that every employee can claim and waste their colleague's time. This has to stop.
It has to be OK, not to attend meetings
We should grant our employees the option not to attend meetings where they aren't directly involved. They should also be able to cancel if there isn't an agenda available in Confluence beforehand where they can see exactly which topics are up for discussion and so assess for themselves whether they have something useful to contribute or not.
And it shouldn't be awkward to do so. It should be completely OK not to attend meetings. Moreover, we should stop participating in meetings just to improve our perceived status within the company.
Prepare and document a meeting agenda for all to see
Making a detailed agenda for meetings available in Confluence should be standard practice. It doesn't make a difference whether I'm supposed to attend digitally/remotely or in person. If I don't know anything about the exact topics on the table, I can't judge whether I'm really interested in joining or not.
A colleague wants to arrange a meeting? Then they should have to work for it. The employee is "too important" to prepare a meeting agenda? Then they should ask their assistant to do it. Transparency is necessary to see the full potential of this concept.
It does require discipline to keep up with this kind of documentation. But it is a key element in a healthy culture of collaboration. People have to note and document what has happened so that others can learn more about it.
Put an end to decision-making meetings
"I'm only going to stop the others from making an awful decision!"
We hear this kind of thing again and again – although it's usually formulated in a more diplomatic way. But it is certainly a valid point. The best antidote for this kind of thinking is the DACI template in Confluence. Teams can use it to make detailed descriptions of decisions before making them as a way of documenting the decision-making process and evaluating the decision in retrospect. Everyone can see what is relevant to the company.
Written status information rather than hours of meetings
How about trying out a weekly or monthly written status update as a clever way of broadcasting typical meeting topics to the whole company? Linchpin Enterprise News makes this easy to do in Confluence without compromising on quality. Team members can even receive content to their phones via push notifications if Linchpin Mobile has been rolled out. It is easy to take care of this kind of top-down communication using time-saving digital tools. There is absolutely no reason why such information has to be spoon-fed to a handful of participants in a face-to-face meeting. Digitally, everyone can make use of it.
The decision on who should receive these updates lies with the creator alone. Team members only? Within the department or a certain topic? For those in a specific location? The entire organization? Or perhaps it should be a public update sent out to everyone? And should an external entity such as business communication agencies require access, there are even special processes to open access up for them too.
Meetings tend to infringe on work-life-balance
Work does not necessarily have to affect employees' private lives. For some, participating in late meetings is a sign of a good work ethic. For others, setting up a number of meetings is one of the first steps in their morning routine. Meetings are held for so many (wrong) reasons – and there are just as many (wrong) reasons why people take part in meetings. And when participation becomes an expectation, this quickly makes itself noticed in the form of very long (and yet less productive) working days for employees.
For this very reason, asynchronous communication is worth trying out. There is so much to gain when we promote a culture of considerate asynchronous communication in our businesses. We'd be happy to provide you with the software tools and concepts you need to do so. It' s much easier than you might think. Feel free to get in touch!