Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Ask Mary: How can I fix our company’s meeting obsession?

Mary Keane Dawson is New Digital Age’s Digital Therapist. One of digital’s most experienced and well-known leaders, Mary will be dispensing her hard-earned wisdom each month on NDA. If you’ve got a problem and no one else can help, simply send the burning question you need answered to

NDA reader Gillian: “I seem to be stuck in a never-ending hell of meetings. Every day seems to be taken up in meetings rather than actually getting the work done that I’m paid a very high salary to do.

What’s your advice on how to change our company culture so we get more done rather than just talk about how we do it!”

Hello Gillian and thank you for your question. I think it’s fair to say that meetings have become almost the de facto modus operandi for how we operate as organisations in our sector today.

The intention driving meetings is in the main coming from a good place – we want to know what’s going on, what can we do to make things better, how can we improve the situation, how can we maximise our impact, optimise our results, generate better methodologies, and motivate each other and our talent?

But when asked about our experiences of meetings, almost everyone says that meetings are more often than not wasteful, pointless, or have become occasions for the loudest and more opinionated to force through an ‘agenda’. They’re seen as irritating and in extreme circumstances can become bullying sessions.

So, what can you do to break the bad meeting cycle? What can you do to solve, or at the very least, improve the meeting overload crisis you’re currently suffering? In my experience the following ‘old skool rules’ really do make a difference:

1) Ask yourself – what’s this meeting for? Do I have a clear objective/outcome I want to achieve from this gathering? Is it needed?

2) Is there an immediate issue where I’m looking for an immediate solution or set of actions? 

3) Or is it a longer-term strategic problem, where we need ideation, innovation, bigger picture thinking and radical new plans?

4)if it’s 2) Make the meeting a stand-up – yes that’s right – if you’re able to stand up then everyone in this meeting stands. Clearly state the objective of the meeting – go around the group with the same question, get each member’s immediate response and then make a decision as to who’s doing what next and tell them.

If you don’t know, ask the team to vote. Then choose one or two routes, delegate responsibilities and set a timeline for actions review and/approvals. Then get back to your highly paid job and use email/Slack/et al to finalise the resultant plan.

These meetings should take 20 – 30 minutes max.

5) if it’s a 3) type of meeting – it’s not a meeting, it’s a workshop. Go off site (not the pub) if at all possible. Prior to the workshop, send each team member ( or twosome) a key pillar brief, set a date and time period ( minimum 2 hours to a full day for the really important mission critical issues) and prior to the day get everyone in the group to carve out their own time (without you) to collaborate on research, data, performance metrics etc.

On the workshop day, spend time helping your team to deliver outstanding thinking and actionable outputs that will make your business incredibly successful in these stressful times. Group critique the resultant decks – delegate next steps, and then get the pizza/super food salads in!

6) Do all of the above and you will absolutely have a much more enthused and positive team, culture and a better business. Oh, and you will keep your highly paid job.

Finally, a word on one to ones.

I’d recommend keeping these to once a month maximum – assuming all else is well in general terms. Make sure you’re clear and that your team member is clear as to your/their objective, agenda and process regarding outcomes of the meeting.

Please don’t go over an hour, as otherwise it’s turning into a review or counselling session. And that’s not a meeting either.

I hope this helps. Try it, and I believe that you and your teams will be pleasantly surprised!