My favorite meetings are canceled meetings.

Before the collaboration heroes start screaming, I get it. 

We need to collaborate. We need to bounce world-class ideas off one another. We need to inspire in face-to-face meetings to make our lives and our companies better. All meetings are like that, right?

Yes, There Is a Need

I agree — we do need to collaborate. I didn’t say meet, though. Human interaction still means something, even if we’re plugged into worlds of social feeds and emojis.

Heck, we just had a company meet-up in San Francisco, and it will go down as some of the most valuable days of the past year. It meant something for the company. Many things.

But there is a difference between a productive meeting and one that triggers unfortunate memories of a dreaded high school history class. 

Most meetings, it seems, fall in the latter category: As David Coleman, the founder and Managing Director of San Mateo, Calif.-based Collaborative Strategies, "meetings are a mess" — and only 40 percent of meetings use any metrics to evaluate their usefulness.

So if we're going to meet at work, we have to reinvent the meeting and stop having crappy ones. 

Don’t meet to meet. Don’t set a weekly meeting. 

With all due respect to collaboration strategist Michael Sampson, don't expect to inspire my creativity by suggesting we meet naked in a sauna. That's just creepy.

And, please, never have a meeting where someone says, “What’s everyone working on?”

What’s Bothering Me?

Why am I so riled? Maybe it’s because I work from home and the painters, plumbers, spouse, dogs and no-school-because-of-snow 11-year-old child were all under the same roof as me last week. That sting hasn't subsided.

Or maybe it's because a survey released yesterday by San Mateo, Calif.-based provider Clarizen made me remember how much I hate status meetings. 

The collaborative work management software provider produced some numbers on why that particular kind of meeting — “status meetings” — can be productivity suckers. Clarizen defines a status meeting as a meeting with updates for team members on completed and active work tasks.

In a survey of more than 2,200 workers in the US, UK and Australia conducted online by Harris Poll last month, Clarizen found US workers waste as much as 30 percent of the work week (assuming a 40-hour week) preparing for and attending status meetings. 

That’s 11.8 hours per week, or nearly a day and a half of meetings and meeting preparation.

What’s left: 3.5 days of actual work. Even Peter Gibbons could compete with that kind of productivity.

Other telling numbers for US workers:

  • 61 percent report they attend status meetings for updates on specific projects, spending 4.1 hours each week in these meetings
  • 62 percent report attending “general purpose” status meetings, devoting an average of 3.9 hours weekly in these meetings
  • 56 percent spend time preparing for status meetings each week, spending an average of 3.8 hours each week
  • 64 percent participate in conference call meetings with colleagues
  • Almost three-quarters who participate in conference calls with colleagues (74 percent) admit to taking part in other work-related or personal tasks while on mute during conference calls (raise your hand if you've ever watched Netflix during a conference call)

We Can Do Better

Let's state the obvious: Clarizen uses this survey as a marketing tool because, as it explains in its own press release, “Clarizen’s collaborative work management solution offers an alternative to status meetings."

However, Clarizen’s Angela Bunner, senior director of product, shared some solid ideas about running a great meeting.

What is a good alternative meeting to a status meeting?

“Brainstorming meetings are typically seen as productive,” Bunner told CMSWire. “In brainstorming meetings, group members gather together to creatively find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its members. Strategy or planning meetings are also key. In these meetings, an organization can define its direction and make decisions on allocating resources to pursue the strategy."

Good meetings include engaged participants, a clear agenda and agreed upon action items/deliverables with assigned owners who can move the goal of the team forward, Bunner added.

Bad meetings?

“People are disengaged, multitasking and/or talking over people throughout the meeting,” Bunner said. “Additional signs include arguments, or having the same discussion over and over again without a clear outcome or deliverables. Lack of progress from one meeting to the next, without clear ownership of deliverables that drives accountability.”

clarizen infographic with numbers about status meetings

Do's and Don’ts

Here are some strategies to help you plan your meetings:

Don’t have a weekly meeting. Weekly meetings force people to talk with no clear goal. When that happens, no one wins. People fear that silence will mean incompetence, so they start talking. "Dallas" TV character JR Ewing once said, "Never pass up an opportunity to shut up." That's the tact I take if I can't offer any value, and in most status meetings, I have little to offer. Cancel all recurring meetings now — unless each of them have an impactful agenda that helps the team achieve specific outcomes.

Do have an agenda. We’re not talking about an agenda that only the meeting organizer puts together and talks through while others listen. Create an agenda that considers, “Will these talking points have value for everyone? Will everyone be able to contribute?” Consider sending out requests for meeting feedback before the meeting. Or maybe a quarterly meeting feedback survey soliciting ideas for improvement.

Do be specific. Don’t leave a spot for “questions or concerns”? Make things specific. Get pressing questions and concerns before the meeting and send out the agenda in advance if possible (yes, we're all strapped for time). This way, people may have time to consider solutions to those concerns before the meeting rather than hearing someone complain about something for 5-minutes before the meeting ends.

Don’t go around the room. For the love of all things wasteful, please don’t pass around the proverbial talking ball to “see what everyone’s working on.” I was at a company once that met just to do this. This has as much chance of adding value to the company as I do beating Marco Rubio in a fake-smile contest. We know what everyone does. Would it be valuable to ask Steph Curry what he’s working for before a Golden State Warriors game? “Yeah, just shooting some 3-pointers today.”

Clarizen’s Bunner summed it all up nicely what a good meeting includes:

“A stated purpose or agenda, a culture of bringing solutions and not just problems, and a relentless focus on documenting next steps.”

Now, excuse me, I’ve got a meeting to attend.

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Title image "Boring Meeting" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Uninen