Meetings can be productive and useful. Here's why and how.
Advice

What if we just banned meetings?

The “no-meeting day” has recently become a phenomenon of sorts. The idea is to give employees an entire work day that their company, department or team has designated 100 percent meeting-free. Companies in the technology, healthcare and business sectors have been eager to implement this practice to create space for employees to engage in focused work for a full day. An organization that adopts this approach views meetings as a disruption to daily productivity.

As a team collaboration expert, I fully support finding ways to increase employees’ uninterrupted work time. However, without efforts to address the root causes of unproductive meetings, the power of the “no-meeting day” is limited.

The no-meeting day doesn’t solve the root problem of unproductive meetings

The no-meeting day has some benefits. Teams that adopt this practice report an increase in productivity. However, eliminating meetings on a given day simply pushes unproductive meetings off to other weekdays, potentially making those days more stressful. Plus, the no-meeting day is not a panacea for every kind of team. Consider sales or client-facing teams that require regular real-time interaction with people: Cross-functional teams may not fully benefit unless every team or department implements the practice.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach; different individuals and different tasks require working in different ways. Extroverts may prefer having their days broken into segments of individual and group activity. Also, certain tasks are better completed as a group.

If you do choose to have a no-meeting day, team leaders should:

  • Embrace the practice and create a culture that supports it. You should model the rule by not scheduling meetings on the designated days. Mixed messages can confuse employees and damage trust.
  • Clearly communicate the goal of implementing the practice to your people, which is to provide more uninterrupted work time. You should also provide guidance for implementation and take steps to ensure employee buy-in and commitment.
  • Not rely solely on the no-meeting day to solve an organization’s problem with meetings. The day should be a part of an overall strategy that addresses the root causes of those problems.

How to make “meeting days” work for you, too

While a no-meeting day might be a good start, a more thoughtful approach is to have fewer and more effective meetings every day of the week. Try the following holistic approaches to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of your meetings.

  1. Cancel any meeting that doesn’t have an agenda with a clear meeting outcome.

Sound extreme? It’s just practical. Many of my clients share that defining a meeting’s desired outcome, or what they intend to achieve in a meeting, is the most helpful meeting practice they’ve ever adopted. Status update meetings and recurring meetings often lack the desired outcome: People meet out of habit instead of thinking critically about the event.

If you’re not the meeting leader and you receive a meeting invitation without the desired outcome, be proactive and ask the meeting leader to provide one. Remember: If a meeting leader can’t clearly articulate the outcome she’d like to achieve in a meeting, the meeting will likely be a waste of time.

  1. Encourage team members to decline meetings if it’s not the best use of their time.

One advantage of a no-meeting day is that it gives employees permission to decline a meeting. If a meeting is not the best use of one’s time, allow a team member to decline the meeting and offer alternative ways to contribute. For example, you can ask team members who will miss a meeting to provide thoughts in advance via email or chat.

  1. End every meeting with a wrap-up.

A meeting wrap-up clarifies what was — or wasn’t — accomplished. Capture the next steps, decisions and key learnings so what was agreed upon in the meeting does not get forgotten or lost, and there is follow-through on tasks. Wrap-ups provide an opportunity to solidify alignment and celebrate the meeting’s results. Allocate three-to-five minutes on your agenda for the meeting wrap-up.

If the no-meeting day was created to provide employees more focused time for work, the next step is to improve and reduce the number of meetings that they do attend.

Mamie Kanfer Stewart is the Founder & CEO of Meeteor and author of Momentum: Creating Effective, Engaging and Enjoyable Meetings. This article originally appeared at Business Collective.