There’s a running joke among community service agencies that’s too often a reality, “We need to have a meeting to decide whether or not we need a meeting.”
As someone who has spent years in the non-profit world, I know meetings. All organizations have meetings, but in my experience, non-profits have brought the art of meetings to a whole new level.
I think I understand where this meeting fever comes from – organizations want to make sure that everyone is informed, and has the opportunity to contribute, before decisions are made. They don’t want to leave anyone out that could contribute. This desire to make sure everyone is involved is admirable but it can contribute to excessive meeting frequency and results in the immense size of some meetings. Unfortunately, too many cooks in the kitchen can hinder progress.
I think we need to stop.
With the number of electronic resources at our fingertips, there are better ways to disseminate information and share ideas.
When a Meeting is Unnecessary
1. There’s no reason to take the time and energy to assemble everyone in one place to share information. There have been too many times that I’ve showed up to a meeting or joined a webinar only to have the facilitator read one slide after the next… after the next. I can read, and so can everyone else in the meeting. Just pass along the information in an email or a link. If there won’t be any discussion or decision-making today, we don’t have to meet today.
2. Training shouldn’t occur during a meeting when there is a lot of variation in existing knowledge among the participants. Don’t hold a meeting to train all your staff on a topic that some staff already know a lot about. It’s a waste of time that experienced staff could be using on other tasks, and inexperienced staff will probably be too afraid to ask questions in front of the more senior staff anyway. It’s much more efficient to hold a separate meeting to train the staff who need it and just send the experienced staff a memo to recap the important points of the topic.
3. Do NOT hold a meeting when participants aren’t prepared to discuss the topic or make decisions. Or when decisions need to be made by a select few before any action can be taken by the larger group. It’s better to disseminate the information first (see #1) and then have a constructive meeting after everyone has had time to prepare for discussion.
Meetings aren’t all bad. They’re a great way to gather points of view, answer questions, speak to concerns, and make decisions. Just make sure that meeting time is productive. And when it is time for a meeting, consider internet-based technology. You can hold your meeting online and save resources, especially time. Less time wasted in meetings means greater productivity.