The Cure for Recurring Meetings

So, what should we do with all those recurring meetings? Should we just cancel them and hope for the best? 

Let’s revisit the project’s weekly status meeting as an example. Assembling all the stakeholders in the project once a week just because there’s a recurring meeting on the calendar is obviously ineffective. This is communication on autopilot. Instead of being intentful and designed to make actual progress, such a recurring meeting will be perceived as (and will, in fact, be) a waste of everyone’s time. If you aim to align everyone on the status, there’s a better way to do that. 

But of course, in a project with multiple stakeholders, there will be issues that require a discussion from time to time: something that needs to be solved or considered collaboratively. Many of these discussions will involve the same stakeholders or a subset of them. Isn’t that a good enough reason to set a recurring meeting?

Well, yes and no. Communication should be meaningful and intentful and should not run on autopilot. A recurring meeting is ineffective because it creates a bias toward having the meeting. First, we assemble, then we think about what we want to discuss. Even if someone takes it upon themselves to define the agenda before the meeting, the default is to have the meeting and find issues to fill the agenda with. Deep inside, we want the meeting to be effective, and so, in many cases, we will manage to fill the agenda with some topics and “use the time.” 

Now, if the meeting does happen (and in most cases, it does), it creates the perception of being needed, if only because some discussions do happen. The big unanswered question is: Are these discussions important enough for all the stakeholders to invest one hour of their week? Every week. Maybe, but not likely. Why? Because the meeting was initially designed without considering what we are trying to achieve. Everyone is invited, and some actually attend, but no one can guarantee these are the people relevant to the discussion and whether the value of the discussion justifies its cost. 

Ok, but we’re not here to rant, and as it happens, we already have everything we need to solve the problem. 

Step 1: Schedule a recurring placeholder. That’s right, call it a placeholder. Write in the title “in case of need” or “probably won’t take place.”

Why have a placeholder if you will not have the meeting often? Because this group of stakeholders has a joint mission, and sometimes you must assemble at least some of them for a deep discussion. That and the fact that scheduling is often a nightmare. A placeholder set in advance solves this problem. 

But the fact there’s a placeholder in everyone’s calendars doesn’t mean it will be used frequently. The intention is not to use it. And when it is not used, everyone gets a meeting-free time slot for doing actual work. This is not just a nuance; it is a mindset shift. Placeholders are to be used only when there is a good enough reason to use them. 

Step 2: When there is a concrete issue to discuss, pick the relevant subset of people and have the meeting. 

That’s crucial. We already established a default of not having the meeting. When we do need a face-to-face discussion, it better be with the right people and only with them. We don’t need to waste everyone’s time, and the discussion will be much more focused and effective if we handpick the people who can and should actively contribute to it. 

Step 3: Share what was decided with the broader forum (if needed). 

This last point brings other people back into the loop, but only if the decision is relevant to them. We don’t want to waste their time and precious attention on irrelevant summaries. Not every issue is important to all stakeholders, and it is up to the facilitator of the meeting to decide what distribution is adequate. 

So, we have a recurring placeholder we are planning not to use in most cases. When we do use it, we handpick the relevant stakeholders for a concrete initiative. And when we reach a decision, we communicate it to a broader, but still handpicked, circle of stakeholders

The math is simple. Fewer meetings, with fewer people, only when needed, focused on concrete issues requiring discussion. At the same time, syncing calendars when a meeting is necessary is easy because all stakeholders already have a placeholder in place.

So, are you ready to change your recurring meeting into a recurring placeholder?

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