Resources / Transformation

How to fix “too many meetings”

  • 5 min read
Vern Norrgard
on February 01, 2022

Meetings are just conversations you need to have to get to an outcome. At least, that’s what they should be but what about all the meetings where there is no outcome, there is no decision and there just seems to be a lot of them without anything happening. Meetings are bloody expensive so you want them to be valuable.

Making meetings effective is a quick way to inject Agility into your organisation, so let’s look at some of the symptoms and causes and what we can do to fix dud meetings.

Create meetings with Purpose

We’ve all been in those meetings where everyone looks around at each other trying to get an idea of what this meeting is about. Why are we here?

So we either need to be clear on the purpose or let the lack of purpose be the gatekeeper to setting the meeting in the first place.

When accepted as a part of your team’s social contract, sending out invites with PODS is an effective way to filter out unnecessary meetings as well as create clarity, not only for the person who is booking the meeting but also for the attendees. 

P: Purpose – Why is this meeting happening
O: Outcome – What’s the expected outcome or objective?
D: Decision – What decision needs to be made, or might be, so the right people can attend.
S: Structure – What sort of meeting is it, quick standup, informal, a workshop for example.

It’s all too easy to send out a meeting invite so adding a little thinking music to the process ensures the meeting is happening for a reason.

Stop accepted by default

How often are your team members going to meetings simply because the invite was sent to them? The measurement of the value in a meeting is not in attendance, it’s in outcomes.

When people are going to meetings because it’s polite, or it’s just the norm it may be because there’s not enough Psychological safety for them to simply decline. Meetings should only be attended if they’re valuable, that way they are organically sustained rather than forcefully. It’s therefore not a failure for the meeting to dissolve over time because it’s no longer valuable and it has run its natural course. 

For this to be able to happen, we need a culture that allows for safe rejection. A great culture will have a meeting owner accept the fate of their meeting and adapt it accordingly.

Create transparency

Meetings generally exist because the information is needed, therefore you could say a high volume of meetings occur when a team is desiring more information. This may be a sign that goals are ambiguous or the solution required isn’t clear. 

Techniques for setting great goals is another larger topic, however, ensuring the team have clear and motivating objectives will help gain transparency on what they are achieving and most importantly, how they will measure it. See our article on OKRs for more information.

The other side of that coin is the solution itself which is not about trying to define it all up-front, it’s instead of allowing the solution to evolve naturally over time as the team discovers information. This information of course needs to be clarified and shared, which of course is a meeting…or is it?

Use Events rather than Meetings

A frequent planning event can take the place of many ad-hoc meetings. As an example, Scrum uses Sprints with a Review and Planning session every two weeks. Ideally, this is where most of the conversation is happening and is meant to replace the ad-hoc meetings.

However, there are many situations where this is not always the case and is a sign that the team’s events are not comprehensive enough. The Planning and Review sessions need to therefore increase in size to ensure the right amount of planning is in place. This is of course a balance because we also timebox these sessions to ensure they don’t go into too much detail.

It’s not about getting rid of all meetings, we want to find the right balance.

Try Daily Standups

Meetings can also occur unnecessarily when information has taken too long to move around the team and an easy way to resolve this is with Daily Standups. A quick 5-10 minute meeting at the start of the day where everyone on the team gives a quick update to their plan for the day and particularly, anything that is in their way of achieving that plan. 

This is one of the most effective ways to achieve agility in any team because information then moves quickly which will help increase the visibility of impediments before they slow work down. 

Dealing with issues as they arise is far more effective than having a larger more complex meeting because a small issue has grown into a big problem. Daily Standups keep the finger on the pulse for the team.

Is leadership controlling or lacking direction?

Are your leaders having too many meetings with their teams or maybe they’re not having enough? Sometimes it’s too infrequent and we have a lack of direction as discussed above which can cause a need for teams to define their strategic direction. 

It can also be the opposite issue where a leader is wanting to control the situation and this is likely because of a lack of information flowing to them.

Events, particularly larger strategic ones such as Big Room Planning and Showcases, can help ensure information is flowing freely in both directions between teams and leadership and with that information, we should reduce the need for unplanned meetings.

Action Points

Too many meetings, or just bad meetings in general, are a symptom, not a cause. If teams are complaining about too many meetings then bandaid fixes like blocking out meeting-free time won’t fix the problem. Instead, we need to examine why so many meetings are being called, as well as attended, and what frameworks or shifts in the way we work can we implement to set up a more effective working environment. Retrospectives are a great way to inspect your current way of working and introduce positive changes.

Above all, creating a culture of transparency and psychological safety is key to having a great meeting culture within your organization.

Oh, yes, and of course, we can help with that! 🙂 

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