Weekly team meetings, daily standing meetings, quarterly review meetings, monthly check in meetings, one-on-ones. The list of recurring meetings filling up the calendar can seem ridiculous at times, especially when so many of them feel utterly unproductive. So why do we have so many recurring meetings and are they good for anything? Let’s unpack the reasons for recurring meetings and how you can rethink yours.
Recurring meetings are intended to create accountability
Many recurring meetings are initially established as a form of accountability. Without the meeting, there would be no impetus for action or accountability to ensure completion. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Four Tendencies, discovered that people fall into four groups when it comes to responding to expectations. One group is called “Obiligers”. Rubin explains, “Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves.” This means they’re more likely to move work forward when they have an external deadline to meet, such as a team meeting. You may have this tendency or work with someone who does.
Team meetings designed purely as a check-in, are most susceptible to being unproductive. Sometimes it seems like everyone is reporting to the leader with minimal interaction among the team members. These sessions are time-consuming without producing worthwhile results. Consider replacing this type of team meeting with a dashboard or other collective accountability document. (You can learn more about this in Chapter 5 of our book Momentum: Creating Effective, Engaging and Enjoyable Meetings.) Rather than bring the whole team together for a report-out, ask each person to update their section first. Then meet with each person individually for 5-10 minutes to review the report, ask and answer any questions, etc. You may still spend an hour or so as the team leader, but each team member will only contribute 10 minutes.
It’s not just Obligers who use meetings to force accountability. When you are deciding what to tackle from a long list of tasks, work that must be finished for a meeting often takes priority. It may seem like a good way to hold people accountable to getting work done. This approach comes with a risk: are these the most important and urgent tasks for your team? Not necessarily. Prioritization should be based on a variety of components such as team goals and organizational priorities.
Recurring meetings create options
Another reason to send that recurring calendar invite is to create options for future meetings. In some organizations, calendars are so full and complicated, projects are slowed simply because the team can’t find time to get together. For project teams, a weekly or bi-weekly standing meeting creates the momentum to keep a project moving at a rapid speed. It ensure opportunities for questions to be raised, problems to be solved, decisions to be made and alignment maintained.
Too often, though, these meetings become free-for-alls with no particular agenda. People show up without knowing what's to be discussed and without any preparation. Be intentional about what you need to accomplish for each meeting. Ask the team to co-create the agenda either ahead of time or at the start of the meeting by contributing topics or questions they want the group’s help with. If there is nothing in particular to address, cancel the meeting. Use the calendar hold as just that, holding the time in case you need a meeting.
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Optimize one-off recurring meetings
It might sound like an oxymoron, but meetings such as quarterly reviews and one-on-ones are a kind of one-off meeting that occurs on a regular basis and serves a particular purpose. Unlike other recurring meetings, these are unique in that they have a standing agenda. The repetitive nature, though, can devolve into a rote process. Instead, use the opportunity of the repeated meeting to experiment and fine tune the standing agenda. Ideally these meetings will become highly efficient and productive because you’ve gotten them down to a science.
Your turn: Rethink your recurring meetings
Before sending that recurring meeting invite, consider what kind of recurring meeting it is and whether a recurring meeting is the ideal approach. Are you grabbing time so you’ll have options for future meetings? ifAre you creating accountability? Are you following a standing meeting process? Could these recurring meetings be replaced with some other form of collaboration? Use these questions to reflect on the recurring meetings already on your calendar as well.
As you near each actual meeting, be intentional about the agenda. Just because a recurring meeting is on your calendar, doesn't mean you should approach it with different standards from any other meeting. Ensure each one has a clear desired outcome and agenda. If a recurring meeting isn’t working for you, rethink it, redesign it, or remove it.
What recurring meetings are on your calendar? How might you revisit the purpose of each and redesign them to be most effective? How have you made your recurring meetings productive?