The Thing About Recurring Meetings

Recurring meetings cannot be effective for long. One might argue they are not effective to begin with. 

Like any other communication activity, a meeting must have a predefined goal. Before setting up the meeting, we must define what we are trying to achieve. To be effective, a meeting should also be part of a bigger mission; it must help us take an actual, concrete step toward that destination. 

If your mission is to meet the targets of a project, an effective meeting has to be designed with a tangible initiative in mind. You might want to mitigate the most critical risk, re-evaluate the plan, decide whether the project scope should change, or evaluate new incoming requirements. Each of these initiatives can help you promote your mission, but they are time-bound and context-sensitive. And that’s where recurring meetings fail. 

Recurring meetings, such as a weekly project status meeting, typically have a fixed agenda (or structure) and a fixed list of participants. Many teams define a template for such a recurring meeting because if the meetings in the series have the same structure, why not reuse the same basic elements and save time preparing the discussion? But when the same people assemble to discuss basically the same topics, there is little or no room for in-depth discussion on what really matters for promoting the mission at a given time. In our dynamic reality, the topics that need to be discussed in the context of a given mission are likely to change from week to week. 

The problem with recurring meetings goes even further than that. The mere assumption that we will have something meaningful to discuss at fixed intervals is a recipe for wasting the time of many people. Sometimes, everything is on track (hopefully), or the people essential to the discussion are unavailable. However, recurring meetings create a bias toward having the meeting no matter what. The meeting organizer has to do something active to cancel it, which rarely happens. 

Communication must never run on autopilot; any interaction must be intentional and carefully designed. Recurring meetings push us in the opposite direction: we conduct them because they are prescheduled; we discuss what we are used to discussing. Does that mean all recurring meetings must be canceled, or should we find a better alternative for managing them? 

That’s for the next issue…

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