12 February 2018
Have you ever participated in a meeting that felt like it was a total waste of time?
I most certainly have. At the job I had before Stonemaier Games, we had bi-weekly, 2-hour meetings that were mostly dreadful. They were my responsibility, so over time I implemented some strict guidelines on agendas and time limits that helped to a certain extent. However, they still left a mark on me.
As a result, I avoid most meetings (with some notable exceptions listed below). That is, I simply don’t schedule meetings, and if someone asks for a meeting, I usually decline.
I actually think that meetings have a place in business: The purpose of a meeting is a collaboration. This can manifest as a discussion, a test/experiment that requires multiple people, or a personal connection (more on that below).
The problem, I’ve found, is that people often request meetings where they want to report information, not discuss. Or they bring up a topic for discussion that they’ve already decided. Or they just want to meet because it’s a regularly scheduled meeting, even if there’s nothing to discuss. In all of those cases, there are better, more effective forms of communication.
Here’s an example: A company I’m working with recently asked if we could teleconference about a marketing plan for a product launch. I asked them if they were looking to report information or discuss the plan. They confirmed that they were just looking to tell me about the plan, so I asked them to e-mail it to me. I reviewed it, asked a few non-urgent questions, and that was it. No meeting necessary.
It feels a little weird to do this, but I have no doubt that it was a more effective use of time for both of us. That said, I sometimes veer too far in the other direction–I’ve had e-mail discussions spanning days that probably could have been resolved over a 10-minute phone call. Though I rarely regret it, because I process thoughts better in writing, and I like having a written record of what was said (my memory is subpar).
As much as I avoid meetings, though, there are exceptions. Here’s what they are, what makes them special, and why they work:
- Automa Team (monthly; Skype): Morten provides an agenda in advance, and he, David, and I individually determine which elements of the update need to be discussed. I’ve found this is mostly helpful to make sure we’re on the same page (or, if we’re not, to find common ground) quickly and efficiently.
- Co-founder (weekly, in person): Alan and I have a weekly meeting time reserved for playtesting and brainstorming at my office. If we don’t have something to playtest or brainstorm, we cancel the meeting. Alan and I are blunt with each other, so having the human element of meeting in person helps us to empathize when our words could come across too harsh in other formats.
- Personal connection (annual, in person): As rigid as I may seem about meetings, I also understand that there is a human element to talking with someone in real time, ideally in person. So while it’s not strictly an effective use of time in terms of productivity, I carve out time annually at Gen Con and in St. Louis for international partners, distributors, retailers, brokers, advisers, etc.
- Accountant (whenever they call me): I resisted these meetings for a while, but I’ve become more open to them because accounting really isn’t my strong suit, so it’s helpful to discuss things on the fly until I understand them properly. I have guided them over time to schedule a time to call me instead of calling me out of the blue so it doesn’t feel like an interruption.
What’s your philosophy on meetings? Which types of meetings do you accept, and how do you ensure they’re an effective use of your time?