Why Every Meeting Should Be Optional
Want better meetings? Let everyone know they don’t have to show up.
By J. Elise Keith
“You say to make every meeting optional. That’s provocative, but is it practical? How would that work? Does anyone do that?”
In my research into meeting practices at high-performing organizations, I found they had a lot in common. Some practices showed up everywhere, like using a clear process to run meetings and taking good notes. Other ideas only showed up in a handful of places, but when they did, they were game changers — big ideas that lead everyone to step up their meeting game.
Andy Kaufman, the host of the People and Projects podcast, picked up on the game changer that leaders find most implausible: Make meetings optional.
It sounds like a radical policy, but when you look more closely, you’ll see that it’s a no-brainer. Here’s why.
1. Making meetings optional eliminates excuses
No one likes their time wasted in a pointless meeting. We also hate sitting next to someone who’s checking their email, rolling their eyes, and vampire sucking all the energy out of the room.
The reality is we are all adults, and no one can force you to attend a meeting you believe to be a waste of time. Really all meetings are already optional, but it sure doesn’t feel that way.
By creating an explicit company policy stating all meetings are optional, you eliminate the excuses. There’s no longer any excuse to sit in a meeting doing other work. If that work is more important than the meeting, go do it! The policy makes it clear that each person is responsible for using their time well.
Meeting leaders lose their excuses for holding lousy meetings, too. How?
2. Making meetings optional forces leaders to get clear on the value
When no one has to attend your meeting, and when anyone can leave if they realize it’s not a good use of their time, meeting leaders must learn to advertise the value of each meeting in the invitation. A policy of optional meetings forces leaders to think critically about why…