Unnecessary meetings are one of the most unfortunate institutions in the modern workplace. Because much of our office culture is built around communication and collaboration, many managers and supervisors make it a point to call as many meetings as possible to get the team together and hash out common issues. Some meetings are highly productive, and some are absolutely necessary, but the vast majority are held for their own sakes, and attending them wastes valuable time.
There are two types of unnecessary meetings--those that don't truly need to be held, and those that need to be held, but don't require your participation. Both types of meetings can be avoided with the right strategy, thus saving you precious time and giving you the opportunity to focus on more important tasks at hand.
For the purposes of this article, let's imagine the most common scenario for the initialization of a new meeting: without verbal notice, you've been sent a new meeting invitation.
Use the Tentative Button
If you're like most office workers, whenever you see a new meeting invite come through, your instinct is to go ahead and click the accept button, even if you aren't sure what the meeting is about or why it requires you. This is the first and most critical mistake that leads to unnecessary meetings: blind compliance.
Some workers might be intimidated to use the decline button, however; such an action could be misconstrued as an act of insubordination or outright defiance. Fortunately, there's a third, seldom-used option that deserves more attention than it gets. Use the tentative button as a middle ground until you can get more details.
Ask for More Details
Those details are important. There's a chance that the meeting invite you received had a descriptive title, a concise message about why the meeting is being held, and the goals of the meeting itself. If your office is like most, that chance is pretty slim.
It's more likely that the invite came through without much warning and without much description. If this is the case, you owe it to yourself to seek out more details. Track down the person who sent the invite out, and start asking questions about the purpose and function of the meeting. There's nothing wrong with this; you're just looking for more information.
Determine Whether the Meeting Is Necessary
This is a subjective determination, and it's your responsibility. Evaluate the meeting based on what you know about it, as well as whether past meetings have been effective. Is there an actual point to this meeting? Are there tangible goals that need to be met? Will you be working together on something or just talking? Can the meeting be replaced by an email update? These are all important questions that can help you decide whether the meeting is crucial or superfluous.
If you feel that the meeting is not necessary, it's on you to voice your opinion.
Determine Whether You Are Necessary
Assuming the meeting is necessary, there's a good chance you aren't absolutely necessary for its successful execution. Adding someone to a meeting invite is as simple as a button click, so it's natural that many workers are added to these invites unconsciously. If you don't have anything to contribute, can't help with the work, or don't have any need for the new information, you definitely aren't needed for the meeting.
If you feel that you aren't necessary for the meeting, voice your opinion.
Voice Alternatives, Not Objections
When you confront the meeting organizer about your reservations, be sure to frame your opinions in the context of alternative options, rather than flat-out objections. Rather than criticizing the point of the meeting or complaining, you'll be helping the organizer find more meaningful ways to spend your collective time.
For example, rather than saying "I don't need to be in this meeting," you can say, "I think it might be more productive if I work on completing X Project this afternoon instead." Or instead of saying "this meeting isn't necessary," you can say, "I think a detailed email update might be sufficient."
Improving a Necessary Meeting: Request an Agenda
In some cases, there's nothing you can do to stop the meeting from happening. But that doesn't mean you can't strive to make the meeting as efficient as possible. Assuming the organizer is going through with the meeting, request a detailed agenda. Agendas help bring focus and purpose to meetings, and can be used to keep all attending parties on task throughout the duration. It can also motivate attendees to prepare prior to the meeting, so that more meaningful discussions can be held.
Improving a Necessary Meeting: Give Constructive Feedback
Again assuming the meeting does take place, use the opportunity to evaluate how the meeting was run, and give your feedback back to the organizer. Did you meet your goals during the meeting? Were you really necessary? Did the meeting stay on-topic? Did everyone participate? What could have been done differently? Share your opinion on these questions, and work together to make your next meeting more productive.
With these strategies in place, you won't be able to avoid every unnecessary meeting that floats your way, but you'll at least be able to make small, positive changes to the meeting-based culture of your office. Using the tentative button and asking for more details will force your coworkers to think critically before sending out blind invites, and giving alternative suggestions and feedback can make the meetings you do have far more productive. Best of all, if you can get your fellow coworkers to join in these practices, in time, your office will collectively make your meetings leaner, more efficient, and far less painful to sit through.