I wish I had more meetings on my calendar," said no one, ever.
Everyone hates meetings, so why and how do we end up with so many on our calendars? The truth is that what everyone hates are unproductive meetings. The format itself is not the problem. In fact, there are certain things that are best handled with live, person-to-person communication, and meetings can help a team accelerate in a way that a chain of 20 e-mails just can't.
They key isn't to get fewer meetings on your calendar, but to get more out of the necessary meetings you have. (And maybe decline those that you really, really don't need to be involved in, so that you have more time for these.)
Here's a list of the meetings that absolutely need to be on your calendar (even if it means missing other things), and how to make the most of them.
One-to-one meetings with each of your direct reports
Minimum frequency: Every other week
Ideal frequency: Every week (can be short!)
If you aren't meeting with your direct reports at least every two weeks, you're not really managing them. That's fine if you're just their "administrative supervisor" for things like leave approval and pay administration, but for most teams, that's not going to cut it. You need to regularly touch base with your employees to let them know if/when they're on the right track and help identify obstacles and opportunities that you can address for them as their manager. Your leverage as a team leader is directly related to how well you enable the potential of the members of your team, so these meetings should be a top priority, even over your own work products.
These don't need to be lengthy conversations, especially if you have task-tracking systems in place that keep you up to date on progress and delays. The purpose of a one-to-one is to check on progress, address questions and issues, and provide guidance to help maximize the success of their work and the team's overall goals. Ideally, your employee should drive this conversation for the most part.
- What updates should I know about?
- What would you like to discuss with me?
- What do you need from me to help you make progress in the next week?
Check-ins with your boss
Minimum frequency: monthly
Ideal frequency: weekly
If you want to be successful, it is critical that you stay up to date with what your boss's priorities are and make sure that they know what you and your team are working on. The problem is, sometimes bosses are overwhelmed by their schedules and tend to cancel meetings with you because, well, you're just one person and you understand, right? If your boss keeps cancelling or postponing your one-to-ones, it's time to find another approach. Is there a day and time that is less likely to get moved? It seems almost cruel to start the week with a Monday 8 AM meeting, but if that's what it takes, it might be worth it. Another possibility is shifting to an every other week approach, but be more resistant to cancellations. If you have one of those bosses who just doesn't want to meet, then you at least need to send them a weekly update with key progress, questions you have, and open issues/questions from previous status reports. It may very well be that your boss is more likely to get back to you via e-mail than to keep to a meeting schedule. Find whatever will work for their style and your reality, but don't let their reluctance be your excuse to miss these crucial communications.
- Team progress/results
- Changes to previously discussed plans and due dates
- Issues/obstacles and possible options for addressing
- Follow-up on previous discussions (issues resolved and still outstanding, etc.)
Minimum frequency: monthly
Ideal frequency: varies depending on interdependencies of the work
On scrum projects, project teams meeting every day for 15 minutes. There are a lot of advantages to that, but it doesn't make sense for every team. If the main thing your employees have in common is that you're their boss, bringing them together more than monthly is not necessary. If, however, their work overlaps or interconnects, it's important to bring them together more frequently. As with the one-to-one meetings, these do not need to be full hourlong meetings. There is nothing magical about 60 minutes, other than being easy to put into an electronic calendar.
Whatever you do, do NOT make team meetings a round-robin of "all the things I've been working on so that everyone knows how busy I am" updates. Only cover things that cannot be covered in an e-mail.
Possible agenda (modify based on your team and the frequency of the meeting):
- Updates from senior management and other higher-level communications employees are not exposed to
- Cross-team challenges to discuss and resolve
- Decisions to make as a team
- Upcoming deadlines, projects, etc., to be aware of
- Identification of things that would help the team as a whole to be more successful (expect a few action items for you as the manager from this)
- Revisiting and possible revision of team goals based on new information (at least quarterly)
If you are approaching these meetings with intention and treating them as a communication tool rather than just an appointment, you should find that your productivity and your team results are increasing.