Being busy is not being productive. This much is clear. But let’s go one step further. Meetings are not communicating. They’re certainly not an effective form of communicating. Meetings are time intensive, disruptive and often counter-productive. They tend to be stilted, keep people from expressing their true feelings and kill morale. Plus they’re incredibly expensive. In short, they should be eliminated from your daily work routine as much as possible.
So why do we have so many meetings? Because we’re lazy. It’s far easier to call a meeting and make sure you’ve checked all the boxes on your CYA form than it is to communicate to the various project “stake holders” on an as-needed basis. This is a bad habit that gets perpetuated in environments where making any decision, big or small, is difficult, risky or requires each decision to go through the group-think meat grinder.
It’s time to declare war on meetings.
Here are a few ways that you can reduce the amount of meetings you’re roped into on an ongoing basis:
Email distribution lists
Most meetings are held because people need to be informed about a project status. Look at that sentence again. It’s ludicrous. There are far better ways to update people, solicit feedback and get approval than putting everyone around the table. An easy way to do this is to set up email distribution lists for different teams, layers of management and projects. You can quickly set one up for a project and disband it once the project is complete. You can also set them up for people that need to be informed about ongoing projects.
Basecamp is one of my favorite productivity tools – as long as you can get the other people in your company on board and using it. It’s great for discussions, project files, milestones and group management of document editing. It’s far better than email, easier to keep track of and puts everything in one place. We use Basecamp religiously and it helps keep everything nice and organized. Plus they have some great iPhone apps that interface with it. The one challenge I’ve found is getting executive team members to engage and make it a part of their work flow. They often want email updates, file copies and that sort of thing. Pushing everyone, from top to bottom to get on board with a Basecamp-like product is the way to go.
Skype and other instant messengers, particularly ones that have both voice and video chat capabilities are a great way to get quick answers to questions that are blocking your progress on a project. IM is far superior to phone calls. It’s shorter, clearer, and there’s no chance of voice mail. I use Skype every day for voice, video and individual IM conversations. I don’t know how people work without it.
Another 37 Signals product. Campfire is a Web-based, group-chat software that lets you host chat rooms for your company in the Web browser. This means that entire teams can chat in real-time without the need for any special software on their desktops. We use it as a marketing team to let everyone ask and answer questions, kick around ideas, update each other on projects and deadlines, etc. It’s a perfect way to keep the team informed and hold discussions about various topics. Campfire lets you create multiple rooms, so you can have one for each department or project or team – it’s all up to you.
Yammer and other private Twitter-like clients let people in your organization update what they’re doing and broadcast it across the company. While your first reaction might be “I don’t need to know everything,” think about how many times you just wish someone told you about a project or launch that was seemingly small to them, but had a big impact on you. For example, say someone in marketing posted a message saying “Prepping email blast to Facebook customers,” and you were responsible for staffing phone support or testing out product conversions, you can reach out to the marketing person and say “hey, send me a copy of that email for the team” or “hey, can I see the copy before it goes out.” Seeing this ambient stream of information can help you catch things that you might otherwise miss.
There are others, but these are 5 that can get you headed in the right direction right away, and help you declare war on meetings in your organization. What are your favorite tools for keeping meetings to an absolute minimum?