It’s Not Too Many Meetings, It’s a Preparation Thing

post it notes laid out on desk preparing for meeting
Peter Myers Photo
Senior Vice President
DDJ Myers Ltd

4 minutes

Preparation, not meeting overload, is the key to effective team performance.

How often have you said, “I’m in too many meetings,” or thought, “This meeting could have been an email”? 

What causes people to feel like this? Of course, a variety of reasons get all the attention. This post will not regurgitate those too often–blamed dynamics. Instead, we’ll point to a few difficult-to-swallow yet remediable dynamics.  

To put it plainly, we find a lack (or sporadic demonstration) of specific skills, a mediocre commitment to preparation, and devoid of high-performance standards and accountability to be the culprits. The manifestation of any one of these variables reinforces the others. 

Meetings are drastically reduced in time and frequency when leaders successfully frame meeting objectives, and their team commits to arriving well-prepared. Dialogue is richer, creativity flows more freely, and team alignment is more easily achieved. 

It takes time to articulate concepts thoroughly in written form prior to a meeting. A leader's spitballing content is much easier and quicker when everyone is present. That way, everyone hears the same message and can bounce ideas off one another.  

However, when content is inarticulately disseminated to a team in this easier and quicker format, it becomes more costly when you consider the formula: # of people x $ average salaries x minutes in meetings + the lost opportunity for more valuable work.  

And this is all compounded by increasing employee disengagement. In the end, it takes longer, too, because we have to have another meeting. 

Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher and mathematician, is attributed with writing, "I'm sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn't have time to write a short one."  

Most people chuckle when they hear this quote. Why? It’s easy to identify with not taking the time to thoughtfully and succinctly prepare content that maximizes shared time, fully leverages each other’s skills, and meets the bar for high performance. 

Let’s consider two examples of executive teams that have standing monthly strategy meetings. The first team has an agenda of “strategy updates,” and they go around the table sharing the latest project updates and next actions from their functional areas.  

Sound familiar?  

The second team distributes thoughtfully written strategic updates a week ahead of time. These updates include open-ended questions and considerations for their fellow team members to contemplate for the next week.  

Even without the explicit expectation of thoughtfully consuming those updates ahead of time, which team will likely maximize the organization’s meeting expenses better? Which team will likely dive deeper into strategic discussions? Which team will likely be more aligned when the meeting is completed? 

Embodying these skills has a compounding effect on organizational performance and, by extension, accountability standards. Again, these dynamics are self-reinforcing since it’s hard to have one without another. If the standard explicitly or implicitly declares that “we will maximize each other’s time,” skill demonstration becomes more apparent. Thoughtful preparation undoubtedly generates active engagement, which produces richer and more complete dialogue.  

The concert of those dynamics at play reduces the need for subsequent unnecessary meetings and the feeling of wasting time. That saved time can be reallocated to produce more value for the organization, which increases employee engagement

To institutionalize these behaviors takes time…sometimes years. The formula is always the same; it starts with one individual and a solid commitment to raise the bar for internal coordination and execution efforts. That commitment focuses their efforts to prepare themselves and others for substantive interactions. Those efforts start to hone noticeable skills. The flow and output from their hosted meetings are noticed, and others become more willing. 

Great talent displayed inspires others to reach the next level. The takeaway for the reader is that being “willing” is to be prepared—it’s actually in the definition. Prepare yourself, organize others’ attention, and make it happen. cues icon

Peter Myers is SVP of CUESolutions provider for board assessments DDJ Myers Ltd., Phoenix. You may also be interested in Myers’ video, What You Should Get Out of a Board Assessment, accessible with CUES Unlimited+ membership. To learn more about how to implement effective board assessment, or if your board wants to improve its critical thinking as part of higher quality governance, reach out to DDJ Myers Ltd. at 800.574.8877.

Compass Subscription