Who To Invite? Avoiding Meeting Bloat and Increasing Efficiency

March 8, 2017 4:03 am

In some organizations, everyone is expected to go to all meetings they have been invited to. There’s an unspoken dynamic at play in these organizations needed for a meeting, nobody speaks up about it or objects. The result: over-attended meetings filled with bored and  ‘voluntold’ team members, a lot of wasted time, and too often a meeting that fails to produce real results. We call this phenomenon meeting bloat. But how do we get rid of it?

When we are empowered to choose attendees for our next meeting, we gain the opportunity to avoid meeting bloat. It might surprise you, but one of the first questions we should ask ourselves is: does the meeting need to happen at all? Meetings don’t need to take place just to tell people about what’s happened or happening; they should be used when collaborative decisions, problem-solving, and developing strategies are needed. Simple changes in project plans, status updates; anything that doesn’t require consensus, or discussion, or is updated frequently can often be taken care of by sending a quick email to team members. Once this practice is established, team members will begin to see meetings as purposeful rather than redundant, a cultural shift which will produce more effective meetings overall.

When we have decided a meeting is necessary, we can pick attendees who possess specific skills and resources for the task at hand. We can cut through the interpersonal or political considerations within our client organization, dramatically increasing the efficiency of our team. But how do we make our picks?

Once you’ve clarified the purpose and outcomes for the meeting, and defined specific activities on the agenda to reach those outcomes, assess who needs to be attending using the RACI model:

  • Who are the ones who will be Responsible for implementing decisions made (The Doers)
  • Who is Accountable for decisions made (The Management, usually)
  • Who needs to be Consulted before decisions are made (The Experts and Stakeholders)
  • Who simply needs to be Informed of the outcome if it impacts them (everyone else)

Often, when there is a decision to be made, instead of having one large meeting, it makes more sense to have three smaller ones, with only the most relevant parties involved.

  1. The Responsible and Accountable parties should be at the table during meeting #1 to establish direction, purpose and implementation
  2. Those who need to be Consulted, such as experts on the subject, stakeholders and those with an interest in the outcome, should be at the next meeting (#2), to offer input on the plan arising from meeting #1
  3. In meeting #3, those Accountable should be informed of the feedback from meeting #2, and finalize decisions based on those results
  4. People who need to be Informed don’t need to attend any of these meetings, as they do not have an impact on their outcome. However, it is essential to send an email to all parties who require information on the decision who will be directly or indirectly impacted. If you feel an email won’t provide enough clarity, have a stand-up meeting (15 minutes) to present the results and address any questions for clarification

Once you have narrowed down your list of who to invite, let each attendee know what their role will be at the meeting. If it’s a subject matter expert, give them tips or a template to follow to present the information that everyone needs in the minimal amount of time. If they are there to gain vital information, let them know in the agenda what questions will be answered at the meeting. As well, always ensure that attendees understand why a meeting is happening (the meeting purpose) and what you results you will be striving for (the meeting outcomes). This knowledge is critical in helping potential attendees can decide if they need to be there or not.

If they are a decision maker, let the attendee know in advance that a decision will be made, and ask if any required input is missing from the agenda. Remember, not everyone has to stay for the whole meeting. If an attendee can only contribute to one agenda item, they can sit near the exit and ask to leave after making that contribution. Using the above techniques, we can break out of meeting bloat and move to a system of smaller, more efficient meetings. This will improve efficiency, as well as having the excellent side effect of improving workplace culture and attitudes towards future meetings. Imagine the difference in participation and enthusiasm when we have a meeting that people actually want to attend or are clear about why they’re there!

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