Do You Need a Meeting for That? Strategies for Cutting Back on Work Meetings

Group of people in a room showing how to decrease the number of work meetings

The goal of this blog is to decrease the number of work meetings you attend. Yes, you read that right. It’s time that we take back our schedules and eliminate unneeded Zoom calls and in-person meetings. If my strategies work, I’ll happily accept flowers and free lunches.

Before I get ahead of myself with a victory dance, let me set the stage. You’re 45 minutes into a meeting and still not completely sure what the purpose is, who’s leading the call, or how you’re going to meet your other deadlines today. Plus, should you add apples to your grocery list?

Fifteen minutes later and still no progress. Then you hear the dreaded, “Well, it looks like we are going to need another meeting.” Cue the theme song from Jaws.

If you’re like me, you can relate; and you’re in the majority. In a survey from organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry, more than 67% of people said they spend too much time in meetings and it’s negatively impacting their productivity.

Supervisors and managers, read the prior sentence again. Scheduling too many meetings impedes productivity. Let that sink in before you plan your next call.

Time is one of our most valuable commodities, and most of us think we have more of it than we actually do. Moreover, the legal profession isn’t immune to burnout and wasting valuable time only increases fatigue and stress.

Therefore, let’s rethink the way we collaborate to be more efficient. Decreasing the number of work meetings is a great place to start.

What to ask before scheduling a meeting

So, how can we decrease the number of work meetings you attend? For this answer, I turned to someone who taught me how to effectively facilitate meetings.

Donna Jean Simon, Principal at Quest International, LLC who coaches executives and teams on performance, says that before scheduling a meeting, the person convening the gathering must ask themselves three questions:

  1. Do we need multiple points of view to solve a problem?
  2. Is it more efficient to have people in the same room to get an agreement or consensus?
  3. Do we need to generate ideas to creatively solve a problem?

“If the above situations don’t apply, then the meeting convenor should look for alternatives to a meeting because typically the purpose is to convey information and there are many ways to do that that don’t require a meeting,” Simon said.

This requires some necessary self-reflection. When you feel stuck with a project or perhaps even a little lazy, it’s tempting to schedule a meeting. Do you just want to feel like you’re making progress toward a goal? If so, think again.

Unless the intent is to structure the project, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Instead, put in the work you’re responsible for upfront before asking colleagues to do it for you.

Exploring new ways of collaboration

To decrease the number of work meetings you host, before scheduling a gathering ask yourself whether the meeting is explicitly for team building and connection. If so (or you can answer yes to any of Simon’s first three questions), move forward but consider:

  • Who needs to be at the meeting?
  • How urgent is the meeting?
  • How long does the meeting need to be?

The analysis doesn’t stop there. Remote work shows us that we don’t all need to be in the same room to collaborate. In fact, according to Keith Ferrazzi, chairman and founder of consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight, there are three ways teams can collaborate:

  1. Collaboration without meetings. This is the first place to start. Can the group use a shared document to generate and exchange ideas before a meeting is called? If so, it may become obvious that a meeting isn’t needed.
  2. Collaboration through remote meetings. These meetings are best for getting as many people involved in decision-making as possible.
  3. Collaboration in physical meetings. These in-person meetings should be reserved for deeper dives into a subject. For example, a kick-off meeting for a new group or team. “If all meetings are only on Zoom, there will be something lost in terms of team interaction, communication, and community feeling. That can impede energy toward accomplishing common goals,” Simon said.

It’s important to consider how maximize efficiency and productivity instead of the number of hours worked. A simple way to do this out is to decrease the number of work meetings we schedule and attend.

The next time you prepare to call a meeting, first answer the questions above and consider the multiple types of collaboration open to you. If this doesn’t work, nothing is preventing you from returning to traditional meetings.

How do you plan to decrease the number of work meetings in your organization? Share your thoughts in the comments below and also let us know if the strategies discussed get you out of a few meetings. I hope they do!

This post was originally published in July 2021. 

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