At my former agency, Punchcut we coached our team that they should never attend a meeting if they don’t have something to contribute. Or if they do get invited to a client’s meeting they should know in advance what their contribution will be. The team lead or project manager will say, “I need to you share your insights on X.” Or, “Come and hear the client’s feedback firsthand.” When you’re a design consultant, your clients are paying the bill for every meeting and they sometimes wonder why they were paying non-contributors to be on a project, or why their meetings are padded with people they might think are non-essential.
Can you imagine writing a check to pay for all the attendees of your meetings? This is why agency meetings are so lean, and why they’re focused on outcomes, not discussions. Even meetings designed to gather information are not just listening sessions, they’re workshops designed to pull insights out of an organization.
Now that I’ve left a consultancy, and I work internally at a large organization, I wonder sometimes in meetings what those silent meeting goers are thinking. I wonder if they think about the cost of a meeting culture. I believe that if attendees spoke up the outcome of the meeting would be better. Or their time would be better spent doing something, instead of meeting.
Meeting ≠ Doing
First, there is the I was invited so I came, but I’m going to work on other stuff meeting goer. I don’t believe this is apathy, I believe it’s bad planning. It is a symptom of this: The, I’m not sure what to do so I invited a bunch of the right people to a meeting, meeting mindset. If you set a meeting, the work will get done. The problem is that meeting is not doing.
Meetings should focus on outcomes: decisions, concise sets of actions, and success criteria.
If you’re the person who just sets up a meeting, maybe next time go talk to a couple key people beforehand to outline the decisions and outcomes you need to proceed? The beauty of a plan is when you do invite them to a meeting they will know why they are needed, and they might just keep their laptop closed.
If I’m in your meeting with my laptop open it probably means I’m in the downward spiral of a dying meeting and I need your help to know how I can contribute.