"This could have been an email."

Those six words can take the wind out of an office. They mean that time has been wasted, employees are frustrated, and leadership has been ever-so-slightly undermined.

Unjustified meetings are inefficient and grating. Haphazardly putting time on colleagues' calendars — only to fumble with its purpose, conduct it without direction, or spend all your time talking at attendees as opposed to collaborating with them — takes a toll on everyone involved.

Here, we'll review some criteria you should look for when deciding whether a meeting is worth everyone's time, see a few definitive signs that an issue doesn't warrant a meeting, and go over some of the more prominent, effective meeting alternatives.

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When You Should Hold a Meeting

The issue at hand is urgent and time-sensitive.

If the information you need to convey is must-hear and timebound, don't think twice — book a meeting. You don't want to run the risk of sending a mass email about a pressing issue, only to have some employees gloss it over or ignore it entirely.

Some things are need-to-know and can't wait, and your response to those instances needs to reflect that kind of urgency. Don't be overly passive. Don't count on your team members to get to the information on their own time. Book a meeting, and get those points across.

You need a space for thorough discussion and multiple perspectives.

Some issues call for some degree of collaboration and thinking out loud. Those kinds of brainstorm sessions and general discussions warrant actual meetings. The spur of the moment thinking and flexibility for your team to bounce ideas off one another is hard to replicate via mediums like instant message or email.

Collaborative meetings foster creativity and critical thinking. If you feel you need your team to immediately run thoughts by one another on the fly and tease ideas out of each other in person, booking a meeting is probably your best bet.

Decision-making is at play.

When the content of a potential meeting is high-stakes — as in "involving decisions that have significant implications on the company's future" — you have to get everyone together.

You can't take these situations lightly. In these cases, stakeholders need to know what's going on and have a forum to air concerns and provide input. An email chain, message board, or pre-recorded video presentation won't provide that.

When You Don't Need a Meeting

You don't have a definitive agenda.

One of the biggest meeting blunders you can make is going in without a plan. Never wing a meeting. Just going in and trying to figure things out as you go is frustrating and obnoxious for your team members — it's an unproductive waste of time.

If you don't put an agenda together, you're also undermining your ability to determine whether the issue at hand actually warrants a meeting in the first place. When you take the time to organize your thoughts, concerns, and materials, you're giving yourself a chance to see the situation in a more objective light.

With that kind of clarity and perspective, you can more thoughtfully determine whether the information you need to convey is better suited for a mass email, instant message chain, or any other less time-and-energy-consuming format.

You don't have all your information together.

This point ties into the one above. If you're not thoroughly prepared or the information you've gathered so far presents an incomplete picture of the situation at hand, you're best off holding off on booking a meeting.

The most effective meetings are thorough, thoughtful, and provide actionable guidance. If you only have a piece of the bigger picture, you probably won't be able to definitively set your team on the right track — and there's no getting that time you with everyone booked back.

If you have some information on hand that you feel your team should know. You might be better off touching base with them over a less personal, time-consuming medium and letting them know you'll have more insight to offer sometime soon.

The meeting is going to involve too many people.

If you're finding your list of potential meeting attendees seems excessive, you might want to explore other options for getting the information in question out. Massive meetings are often unproductive and typically involve a fair amount of people who don't actually need to be there.

If the meeting is going to be packed to the rafters, you probably won't see much thoughtful, organized discussion. Plus, if that many people need to know what you need to say, it's probably more of a one-sided announcement than an issue that lends itself to focused collaboration. In most cases, that kind of content is generally better suited for email.

1. Email

Email might be the most prominent alternative to meetings. It's an excellent resource for announcements and less pressing, more general internal communication — information that doesn't necessarily require an immediate response. It allows you to easily get your message out while providing an opportunity for individual questions and thoughtful collaboration.

2. Video Presentations

Pre-recorded video presentations can be an excellent way to thoroughly and thoughtfully convey information without getting the team together. Resources like Loom allow you to conduct demonstrations, record messages, and offer updates that your team members can watch on their own — making for less friction and saving some time that a full-scale meeting might waste.

3. Instant Messaging

Instant messaging is one of the better ways to replicate some of the more immediate, spur-of-the-moment aspects of a collaborative meeting. With these kinds of programs, you can receive quick responses from team members in real-time. The format is best suited for quick questions and conversations that aren't necessarily significant enough to warrant full-scale meetings.

4. Wikis and FAQ Pages

Wikis and FAQ pages offer materials that address common questions and concerns that your team members might run into. These mediums are also effective in the long term. By committing information to a web page, you can offer your team an evergreen reference point for concerns and stave off unnecessary meetings, down the line.

Quiz: Do you really need that meeting?

 

Meetings need to be booked carefully and with intention. Your colleagues can't get that time back, so you need to know that you'll be productive every time you circle up with them.

If you're thinking of booking time with your team, be sure to consider the points on this list. You don't want to deal with the groans and eye rolls that come with a meeting that "could have been an email."

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Originally published Feb 12, 2021 8:00:00 AM, updated June 11 2021

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