Imagine coming into the office one morning, settling at your desk to prepare for the working day. A colleague you sort-of recognise from down the corridor wanders into your office and, without a word, steals your chair and rolls away with it. No explanation as to why he took your chair in particular, or any acknowledgement that you might need it to get any work done. You’d surely kick up a fuss, right?
This is the scenario painted by information security expert, David Grady, in a great TED Talk I watched recently. Every day, we allow our colleagues, otherwise decent people, to steal from us. Something far more valuable than office furniture: time.
The crime occurs when a meeting invitation pops up in your calendar, with a subject line referencing some project you’ve heard a bit about. But there’s no agenda, no information about why you’ve been invited… and yet you accept it reflexively, torpedoing your efficiency with a single, involuntary click. After the (inevitably unproductive, poorly-run) session is over, you return to your desk no further forward and realise that’s two hours of your life you’re never going to get back.
Yes, meetings are important, but mindless acceptance, woolly objectives, bad planning and sloppy moderation can cause a collaborative fail. So it’s important to remember that you’re not powerless and doomed to suffer a global epidemic of bad meetings. The cure is in your hands.
Follow these three simple steps the next time you receive a meeting invitation that doesn’t contain enough information:
- Click the ‘Tentative’ button (or whatever the alternative is on your calendar application)
- Get in touch with the person who invited you to the meeting
- Tell them you’re interested in supporting their work, but ask what the goal of the meeting is and how they anticipate you can help them achieve it.
If the rationale for your attendance is flimsy, you’re entitled to politely decline. What a liberating thought!
The idea is that if we start to push back respectfully, and interrogate the reasons for meeting, people will start to become a little more thoughtful about how they make use of colleagues’ schedules. They might even get into the discipline of sending out agendas in advance – gasp – so everyone knows what to expect and stays on topic. Or not tying up a dozen people on an online meeting when a quick status update by email would suffice. Time is money. Meetings aren’t free. Bad meetings are theft.
To find out more about how bad meetings rob our productivity, and why clearing your schedule is better for business, there’s also a handy infographic on the Economic Impact of Bad Meetings that accompanies the TED Talk.
If you’re also responsible for hosting meetings as well as just attending them, make sure you read this blog post before you even think about sending that next calendar invite – Banish meeting boredom: 13 tips for better meetings