From Where We Sit

Meetings never end

Anton Ng Anton Ng

Since we were students, we have never stopped attending meetings. In every organization or group we belong to, meetings are a normal occurrence. Especially now that we are part of the workforce, we have either called or been called into one. Every time I look at my calendar in the morning, the happiest times are those when there are no scheduled meetings for the day. On those rare occasions, I have the entire day to face my email—another one of those things that we have too much of in our lives—and tasks.

Knowing that we have so many meetings to attend, it would be understandable if one asked if all those meetings are important and relevant to our responsibilities at work. How many of us have felt less than satisfied after attending a meeting: that we could have been more productive if we were not in the meeting? How many of us have felt, minutes into an hour-long meeting, we neither have nothing to gain or contribute? Many of us share the same sentiment but, at the same time, a lot of us are also responsible for calling those meetings.

People often call meetings to achieve a set of objectives (e.g., cascade information, resolve issues, obtain updates, gather information, etc.). Sometimes, however, our default action to meet our objectives is to call a meeting. Worse, these can be very big meetings where half of the attendees are no longer sure why they are even there. This happens, because the person who called for the meeting is only considering how they can meet their objectives in the most convenient way possible without any regard for the invitees.

The first thing that needs to be very clear to the person calling the meeting is the objective. What are the objectives of the meeting? If the identified objectives can be achieved without setting a meeting—such as through email—then a meeting should no longer be called. A best practice I have read is that, instead of identifying the agenda for the meeting through a list of topics to be discussed, frame the agenda with a list of questions that participants have to answer. If the questions cannot not be answered in the meeting or there are actually no questions to be answered, then one has to reconsider holding the meeting.

By framing the agenda through questions to be answered, it would also be easier to identify the appropriate persons to invite. Only those that can help answer the questions should be in the meeting. This would help limit the number of persons in the meeting. The fewer people in the meeting, the higher the chance that discussions will be faster and that less total time resource from all who participated would be spent on the meeting.

In addition, consider classifying the meeting invitees into tiers. The first tier are those essential to addressing the meeting questions. The second tier are those who need to answer some questions.

The third tier are those not really needed to answer the questions, but may provide inputs that will help answer the questions.

By grouping the participants, we can then structure the meeting in such a way that we minimize idle time. Those in tier one will be invited for the entire duration of the meeting. Tier two participants will only be invited for a portion of the meeting, when they are needed. Tier three participants may not be invited at all. Instead, we can ask them to send their inputs through email before the meeting. This way, we are able to maximize everyone’s time.

Another advantage of framing the agenda through a list of questions is that, as soon as we have already answered the questions within the meeting regardless of the time allocated in the calendar invitation, the meeting can already end. By doing this, we can also better set the number of minutes needed for the meeting, hence, we will not hold anyone’s calendar hostage for longer than necessary. Lastly, not all meetings should be scheduled for an hour.

Meetings have a lot of value. With the right people ready to answer a clear set of questions, meetings can be both effective and efficient. Sadly, meetings take time away from people. If we can think in terms of ensuring that we are mindful of other people’s time and not simply think of what we need to get from them in the most convenient way, people would be more satisfied at the end of each meeting.

Anton Ng is a Partner in the Audit and Assurance division of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory, and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 23 partners and more than 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to anton.ng@ph.gt.com or pagrantthornton@ph.gt.com. For more information, visit our website: www.grantthornton.com.ph

 

As published in The Manila Times, dated 02 October 2019