The first step to getting out of the mandatory meeting cycle: Don’t call meetings if you were planning one-way communication

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In my previous posts (here and here), I discussed why calling “mandatory” meetings is a bad idea.  It doesn’t work at getting more attendance and it creates contempt for the meeting before it even started.  Yet, many meetings are still called “mandatory”.  This blog post is the first in a series dedicated to help you break the cycle of making meetings mandatory.

As explained in the prior posts, if you feel compelled to make a meeting mandatory, then it is an indicator that the meeting isn’t worth having.

So the first question should be: Is the meeting format even necessary? 

If you were planning to convey information to your team or group – and had no plans for additional interaction — then the meeting format isn’t necessary.  This is also true of other “guest speakers” you may have planned.  If they were planning to talk in front of the group – and nothing more—then the meeting isn’t necessary.

Unfortunately, this is how many meetings (especially group meetings) are spent.  The leader speaks uninterrupted about various topics.  A guest speaker (such as the direct report of the leader) may do the same.   If this is your plan, then consider not having the meeting at all.  Instead, use the efficient and effective written communication tools at our disposal: 

Send an email about the changes in leadership.

Share what you learned at the recent executive summit via your blog. 

Share your thoughts about the status of the projects or the results from last quarter in SharePoint or other project management and information sharing tools.

If you don’t have to share it in person, then don’t do it.  And guest speakers don’t necessarily “mix it up” and suddenly make it interesting.

In addition to the likelihood that the meeting leader isn’t a very interesting speaker, meetings are very expensive in that they take people away from their work.  You need to factor in the time it takes for someone to transition out of doing work, then get to the meeting, then attend the meeting and then transition back into work.  Additionally, you may want to factor in snarky talk by some employees about the uselessness of the meeting.  If we’re looking at an all-group meeting (say, 40 or more people), this adds up to a lot of money!  Even a small meeting of 4 or so people can be expensive.  So spend that hour that you were planning take for the meeting and instead composing your thoughts and send it out through the dramatically efficient means we have at sharing ideas via electronic format (i.e, email or team blogs). 

One-way communication via the written word and visual charts/images (if you have them) is as effective as one-way verbal communication in a meeting.  In fact, written communication is less mediated (that is, fewer areas of interference) than verbal communication, which requires that all participants in attendance have your focus, that your voice be amplified and that you are uninterrupted by other distractions which are common at meetings.  (As an example, think about the neighbor who keeps whispering “oh brother” as the presenter speaks, or when you are just not able to hear or see the speaker at the front of the room.)  The written word is more difficult to be distorted by naysayers and interrupters.

So if you were planning to do just a one-way speech or a talk, then written communication is probably best.  But wait, there’s an intermediate option between writing that memo/blog and calling a full meeting.

Consider a v-log

With web-cams, you can do asynchronous (accessible at any time, rather than at one time) communication that is verbal and unmediated!  If your style is expressing yourself via speaking (and you feel that you are good at it, or want to get better at it), why not do the equivalent of a video-blog post?  Of course, this assumes employees have access to computers with video capability, but this describes a huge chunk of the working population. 

With the video message, you can speak directly into your computer’s webcam, record your message, and post it to your company’s intranet (provided your IT department can do what is commonly available over the internet).  It’s essentially the same as writing that email, but has the benefit of people seeing you speak, and the non-verbal expressions you can convey (if you feel this is a benefit).  In the past, this required some sophisticated video production, but the costs of doing this now are significantly less, if not zero, and the talk itself will take less time and have fewer costs than the all-team in-person meeting.  As it is asynchronous, it is accessible by people who are not at work at the time, and can be accessed at different times of the day when the employees can choose when the best time is for receiving your information.  You are less likely to disrupt the employee’s workflow.  For those mavens who want the info first, they can access it first.   

Check the results and adjust

With the blog or web-cam message, you get some other benefits (provided your IT department cooperates): You can get information about how many (and sometimes which) people actually viewed it, and how long they viewed it for.  You get the information about whether or not the message you wanted to convey was conveyed and to what.  You can learn just how compelling your message is.  This is a leading indicator for how important this communication is and what is needed to follow up.

Note: Don’t be disappointed when not everyone watches your video.  Think instead of how much resentment you saved by not forcing them to watch you during a mandatory all-team meeting.   And if your blog/vlog isn’t popular, don’t suddenly make it mandatory.  One alternative is to consider having your direct reports further share the information to allow for greater discussion and feedback about whatever the announcement is. 

Or you can actually have a follow up (non-mandatory) meeting that allows for greater discussion of the issue. .  . 

Create greater anticipation for actual meetings

There is a secondary benefit to opting for non-meeting communications (written or video blog):  If you do written communications to get the unidirectional information and updates across, then when you do decide to do in-person meetings, it has greater anticipation by the audience.  The employees know intuitively that if you are choosing not to do a written or video communication, it is going to be more important, more dynamic, more interesting and have more opportunities for interaction than what could possibly be conveyed via the written word or video blog.  So by starting with written or video communications, when you opt for verbal – in person and interactive – communications, you are bringing the status of the meeting to actual meeting status.  You may even get buzz about the meeting, and the anticipated value of the meeting will be considered much higher. 

So the first tip for making your meetings more compelling:  Don’t have meetings! 

In the next post, I’ll provide criteria for assuring the in-person meeting should actually happen.

Related posts:

Nine simple tips to make meetings more compelling

More reasons mandatory meetings are bad for you and bad for your team

Making it a mandatory meeting sabotages the meeting

The Art of Providing Feedback: At least try to describe what to do instead

Five tips for reducing drama on your team

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


3 Responses to “The first step to getting out of the mandatory meeting cycle: Don’t call meetings if you were planning one-way communication”
  1. Sue says:

    Do you have any suggestions on how to approach your manager when he/she calls a mandatory meeting (especially those that are either before or after normal work hours)?; other than forwarding this link, of course…

  2. Hi Sue,

    I’m working on an article that discusses how to get out of mandatory meetings — it will be published in the coming weeks. The article describes using the critera for effective meetings to make a rational argument for not attending. However, rational arguments don’t seem to work with managers, so it may take a few rounds of discussion and negotiation with a manager. This is why I advocate for a field of “management design” that encourages managers to create meetings that are useful and compelling — and not rely on management short cuts that like making meetings mandatory — so these kinds of weird political machinations with employees can be reduced. The amount of time you’re having to deal with negotiating out of the mandatory meeting is time away from doing something that could be more productive, whether at work or at home.


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