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Let's not have a meeting about that

Sep 13 John Webster Workplace Management, Motivation

bored-employees-in-presentation-1940x900_29877.jpgYears ago, I was in a meeting that was made up of all the administrative people in the business. HR, Finance, IT, Reception etc. Between us, we kept things ticking over for the teams that provided professional services. It was a sizable group, around 15 people, and the first topic was updating the staff administrative handbook. We started with, what the color of the front cover should be . . . .


We had a lot of stakeholders in the room, all of whom felt a strong attachment to this handbook. It was, after all, the statement about what we all did for the company! We couldn’t have a blue cover because that’s the color used in the finance reports, couldn’t be green either because that’s used on the TPS reports . . . . can we check with the print room what color paper we can order? I sank into my chair, it was going to be a long meeting . . . in fact, the discussion took over 40 minutes of the hour set aside for the admin meeting. A little piece of me died that day. . . . I know you’ve all been there . . . . . 

The Harvard Business Review cited a study showing over 3/4 of executives see useless meetings as one of the primary aggravations of the always contactable workforce. It cited examples of people on their private time being required to attend pointless meetings causing huge amounts of stress.  The report centered around the fact that people see the always connected workforce as a good thing, provided time is wasted in and out of the office on pointless exercises. Badly run meetings were a significant culprit.

It’s not there to read out aloud your done list . .

A co-worker once got a couple of us these awesome ribbons that said “I survived a meeting that should have been an email”, truer words have never been spoken. They aren’t there to read at people (Yes, organizers of town hall meetings I’m talking to you!).

A great service that lets people quickly comment on documents and aggregate feedback before meetings is fellow BlueChilli alumni, Button. Pop that service into your slack messaging service and it lets people clear up a pile of decisions well before you meet.

"You can’t make time; so those who waste the least, achieve the most. "— Tim Fargo

Meetings have a lot of hidden costs, staff time, travel, lost productivity, preparation for the meeting and getting back up to speed on real work when you finish. And that’s just the planned meetings. People are way too trigger happy to call a meeting when something unexpected happens to air grievances. Don’t talk about it. Get in there and fix the problem. 

Come to meetings prepared

It’s not hard to prepare for a meeting. Communicate expected outcomes. Arrive on time. Bring whatever you said you were going to have ready . For the love of all that is decent don’t go ahead with the meeting if you aren’t actually ready to; you know, meet. 

“Sometimes five minutes spent with six people separately is more effective and productive than a half-hour meeting with them all together”. — Antony Jay
Start Wars scene - "Stay on Target"

Stay on target

Perhaps the one that challenges me the most is to stick to the outcomes. I really enjoy the company of good people. Humans are social animals! Business meetings are not a social event, they are there to keep us on track. Know why you need to have that meeting and then stick to it. Agendas are good as long as they contribute to the outcome as well. Have someone chair the meeting to keep everyone on track. 

Challenge that regular meeting

In his excellent review of standup meetings in an agile workplace Jon Evans argues against even having the daily standup in an age of distributed teams and the myriad of connectivity tools. He puts the cost of waiting for everyone to attend as being too high for a daily meeting.

 . . for a lot of people, their sharpest, most productive time is first thing in the morning. So standups face a catch-22: they either occupy the very best and most productive time of many developers’ days, or else they detonate in the middle of the day, generally requiring at least twenty minutes of context switching before and after. — Jon Evans

So what 's the alternatives?

At Shiftiez, we have a distributed team, based in different cities.  Some of the team work from home regularly, so we aren't often in the same space. We try to avoid meetings and limit video conferences to 30 mins or less  and then only when we have a complex agenda to cover. We love Slack, and I use it to maintain connection with startup groups outside of Shiftiez too.  

Meetings should be a last resort and with the aim of preventing further meetings on the same topic. If your only outcome is to hold another meeting, you need to examine your meeting process or you risk harming your staff and wasting money.


Shiftiez uses co-planning when building rosters, creating a happier and more engaged workforce. Let us show you how Shiftiez is the rostering solution for companies that love their staff.

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John Webster

Written by John Webster

John is the Founder and CEO of Shiftiez. With a background in running IT teams, he founded Shiftiez to look for ways to improve people's work/life balance through technology.