Why are You Having Meetings?

On more than one occasion, Japanese clients of mine have complained that their people over burdened with meetings. There are too many of them, and they are too long. They are not sure what to do.

I suggest that the only reason to have a meeting is to make a decision. No decision to be made? No meeting.

Usually the response I get is something like, “What!? That would mean that we would cut the majority of meetings we hold!”

Exactly!

In Japan, I have found that it is common to have meetings for no purpose other than the vague goal of “information exchange (情報交換).” It is often not clear what information is to be exchanged, in what degree of detail, or for what purpose.

Such meetings have little value. People may have little motivation to show up, or may only be present with their bodies, but without their minds.

If you are holding meetings like this, stop it.

Ask, “How do I expect the information exchanged to be used?” That will give you indications as to what decision needs to be made. You may find that it is not really necessary to hold the meeting at all, or that information can better shared through other means, including written communication,  informal discussion, or one-one-one discussions not involving the entire group.

You can improve the meetings you do decide to hold by doing a few simple things:

  1. Define a clear objective for the meeting. What is the decision to be made?
  2. Develop some simple guidelines on how the decision is to be made.
  3. If information exchange is necessary for making the decision, be clear about what information. Give some basic guidelines on how it is to be presented. Maybe that information can be shared in advance of the meeting in some way rather then during the meeting.
  4. Distribute a written agenda in advance outlining the above information. Keep it short and simple.
  5. Have someone lead the meeting, or lead it yourself. This is to ensure that discussions stay on track and on time.  Be assertive in keeping the meeting on track and on time. Do not be shy.
  6. Be clear and specific about actions to be taken. Who will do what by when? How will accomplishment be tracked, by whom, and when?
  7. Send out a written record of the decision taken, the action items and people responsible for carrying them out, and how they will be held accountable.

My best clients who follow these guidelines have been able to dramatically cut the number of meets they have, reduce the time spent in meetings they hold, increase the value of the meeting to the participants, and improve the effectiveness of the work of the team. If you are not doing this, give it a try.