It’s 6:30 PM, you are getting ready to shut the computer down and take the long commute to the kitchen (if you reading this in 2021 lookup COVID-19), should you call a meeting for tomorrow morning or not? It is decision time. If we overlook the probability that no one will be able to do the prework and you might not have an agenda close at hand, our simple checklist can steer you away from meetings where they do not make sense.

__ Is the goal of the meeting for you or someone else to make a presentation perhaps with a request for questions at the end?

Video recordings or screen captures are better tools than a meeting for delivering this content. People that need to consume the information can opt-in and watch on-demand. Not holding a meeting also avoids the person in the back of the room who feels that it would be rude to leave but not rude enough not to pay attention. 

__ Is the goal of the meeting to provide a one-way transfer of information?

This is a general case of the presentation type meeting noted above but is not limited to presentations. Several years ago, I worked for a firm that had a “status report” day where every project leader had to give their status verbally to a panel of executives. All projects and department managers had to sit in the audience, the WHOLE day. Coffee sales in Cleveland spiked on those days. 90% of the content was a one-way transfer. Video status reports or (gag) written status reports would be a better approach.

__ An immediate response or collaboration isn’t necessary.

When immediate feedback is not needed to deliver the material outside of a meeting and let people be thoughtful. The point to consider in this case is whether you will get better feedback and input if people can consume the material and give it thoughtful reflection. I have occasionally seen people call pre-meetings to get people ready to provide feedback at a later meeting which is its own special form of torture. 

__ Does the material have low emotional content?

Content that isn’t emotional has little chance of becoming “loaded” which suggests that email or other asynchronous communication will be a more efficient time management approach. 

__ Is the material straightforward? 

Straightforward can be read and digested asynchronously without conversation. It is a common belief that most people skim emails or just read the summary of papers when they perceive that the material is complex therefore conversation (meetings) is needed to develop a common understanding of the material. Note: I have observed that with complex information, for example helping people understand the principles in the Agile Manifesto, a combination of pre-reading and group discussion is needed. 

 If you answer all of these questions yes, resist the urge to call a meeting. Write an email, send the PowerPoint or paper, or record an audio or a video message. You will avoid a meeting on both your calendar and the calendars of everyone you would have invited. That time will be spent on other things, just hopefully not other meetings. 


Next: Simple Measures of Meetings