Welcome to part 3 of our “Training a New Manager” series. I’ve been a managing people for a long time, and when one of my guys asked me some questions about where to start, we began the email trail you see here. (This is part one of what will be several more!) We decided to publish it and dedicate it to new managers who are trying to figure out how to lead their people. Do you have something to share? Feel free to share your tips in the comment section below!
Great follow-up questions! Let me address your first question – “What’s your take on status meetings or ‘standing meetings’ that are always on the schedule?“
I assume you’re referring to “recurring meetings.” Here it is in black and white – don’t miss it. You should treat them like radioactive waste that can kill your team. While that might sound like hyperbole, I can assure you that I’m serious, and here’s why:
- Do work, don’t talk about work. For a couple years I subscribed to the “let’s have a standing status meeting” philosophy. In that meeting, I expected people to give an update on what they did yesterday, and what they were planning on doing today. Did anyone else really need to know the specifics of the others’ workload? Occasionally, but not usually.When one of my employees pointed out how pointless these meetings tended to be, I began to get creative about how to accomplish my goals without meeting. What did I need to know….really? Well, I wanted to know what people were doing so I could affirm them, remove any obstacles they were facing or redirect them if I thought they were somehow working on the wrong things. I decided I could get that input by either asking for a quick email or by having them post their intentions via a project management tool we use – Basecamp. These updates take my staff about 2 minutes to write, and take me about 4 minutes to read. It was a simpler solution, and we all got back to doing the work more quickly!
- Recurring meetings waste money. So here’s what would happen…we’d get a bunch of people in a room, and under the guise of “solving problems” we’d miraculously use every minute of the allotted meeting time talking about something. Some people felt like we were doing something important, and perhaps they were because the issue was critical for them, but most folks would leave the meeting wondering why they were in the room. Being a company that charges for professional services, one day I looked around the room and calculated the cost of the meeting. I almost passed out. The meeting was going to cost me $2000! I wouldn’t have paid $20 for the meeting, and it was costing me 100 times that!I’ve decided that almost all of my meetings should be ad hoc. If I need to have a meeting (based on the criteria in my last email), I’ll call it. Occasionally I will set up a short-term recurring meeting (once a week for 3-4 weeks) when I know I have an important reason to meet, but even then I’ll cancel the meeting if I feel like it’s value isn’t worth the cost. Some folks just love to meet, and they’re not happy with this philosophy, but most of my staff are happy to have meetings only when they help them do their work.
- Recurring meetings fill up an already busy schedule. When you ask anyone in your office “How are you?”, how often do you hear “Busy!”? A lot, right? I can’t remember a time when an organizer cancelled a meeting that I didn’t feel relieved. “Sweet! Now I can get some work done!” The only times I don’t feel like that is when the meeting is something that directly helps me get my work done.Recurring meetings are, almost by definition, inefficient. How can you possibly know if you need to meet about something 5 weeks from now? Managers and project managers like to schedule recurring meetings because it’s easier than keeping their finger on the pulse of the situation and knowing whether a meeting is necessary. I have definitely fallen victim to that kind of thinking. I understand there are times that a placeholder is important so people leave room in their calendars for what might be an important meeting. But if their calendars are so full that you need to resort to that strategy, the foundation of this email has just been proven. Whenever possible repeat to yourself “fewer meetings, more work.”
All that said, I don’t want to overstate my case. There are certainly time when meetings, even recurring meetings, are important to getting work done. That said, be very, very careful of the trap that many managers (myself included) fall into – “meetings improve productivity”. Perhaps they will, but most likely you will be spending precious time (and even money) on what will only serve as a distraction to your team.
Hope that helps, Michael. I’ll address your second question in a subsequent email.
Are you a new manager? If so, feel free to ask a question by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll add great questions in our upcoming posts! Check out the other posts in the series:
1. 3 critical tips for new managers—ask questions, listen to the answers and take action
2. 4 reasons to have meaningful meetings—if you have to!
3. 3 reasons to avoid stand-ups and recurring meetings when you can
4. How weekly check-ins can change your company culture