This is an outtake from the book The Non-Obvious Guide to Magical meetings (No Matter Who is in the Room), written by Douglas Ferguson & John Fitch.

Meetings galore or meetings no more? We obviously need meetings to do meaningful work together, but we can definitely do a better job of identifying when we should and shouldn’t have them. That’s right, there are unnecessary times to host a meeting; they’re not always needed.

Unnecessary meetings waste both time and money.

It is not obvious how quickly the cost of ineffective meetings compound. Take a 1-hour meeting with 8 executives or creatives: you aren’t just wasting 1-hour of the company. Squandering those 60 minutes means also wasting the collective total of 8 hours of the people in the room’s time. You take away the potential for other strategies and creative work they could have been doing within that hour. And the terrible meeting interruption may ruin the other individuals’ deep workflow for the rest of the day. They might need an entire day to recover and get back to the flow state they were in prior to the pointless meeting.

A terribly planned meeting can also lead to unnecessary decision fatigue–or the inability to make sound decisions due to scattered thinking and/or a forced decision-making process. So, it is important to be damn sure why you are having a meeting before you gather people together. Just like a surgeon ensures that the surgery is necessary and well thought out, your meeting should have a clear purpose, the right people in attendance, and all the resources you need to have a productive and effective meeting

One easy route to take the magic immediately out of a meeting is to have a meeting that is just a status update. Think through the objective of the meeting ahead of time before spending any more resources or wasting people’s time. If there isn’t a clear purpose and work to be done in the meeting, then it would be like scheduling a surgery without having anything to fix. 

We recommend creating your own Should We Even Have a Meeting Test that is simple and shared across your organization. To pass the test, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is there a clear purpose for gathering people to meet? 
  2. Is there an artifact/prototype to review? 
  3. Is there going to be an artifact /prototype that we create after workshopping in the meeting? 
  4. Is there going to be a series of decisions made that alter the direction of the project?
  5. Is this essentially a status update in disguise? 

If you answer ‘yes’ on question #5, then your meeting is better off as an asynchronous email or a write-up in your company’s project management software. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of (or combinations of) questions #1-4, then your meeting is likely worthy of an official team gathering and it’s time to move forward with planning. 

Another pro-tip is that once you elaborate on the questions of the test, you can share the answers (Questions #1- #4 for example) with all of the attendees of the meeting prior to the meeting so they know what to expect. You can again mention this information at the start of your meeting to ensure that everyone is on the same page before you dive in. Clarity is comfort and your attendees will understand why this meeting is necessary, and hopefully, they look forward to contributing.

Before you schedule your next meeting, pause, take the Should We Even Have a Meeting Test, and identify the meeting’s objective and trajectory. Then and only then should you move forward with planning an effective meeting

Want to learn more about how to have Magical Meetings?

Check out Douglas Ferguson and John Fitch’s upcoming book: The Non-Obvious Guide to Magical Meetings (No Matter Who is in the Room) and our online Magical Meetings Course.