Undocumented Meetings Are Useless

Here are 3 questions about meetings for you to consider:

  1. Have you ever been to a meeting without an agenda?
  2. How about a meeting where nobody (not a single person) took notes of any kind? No pen/paper, no whiteboard, no tablet, no smartphone, no nothing.
  3. What about a meeting that did not produce a written artifact of any kind?

You said “yes” to all three. Guaranteed. I bet you can also say yes to all 3 after many meetings.

I should qualify something here. I’m talking about workplace meetings. Not your daughter’s soccer team meeting or a “social meeting” (a meeting that is really just an excuse to socialize – more on this later) or the information sharing meeting you have with your partner at home after the kids are in bed. Not those. I’m talking about meetings at the office. The kind that were scheduled in advance, where a room was booked, and everyone in attendance is there because they were invited (i.e. they are required to be there).

I said “yes” to all 3 questions, so what?

Undocumented meetings are useless. That’s what.

1) If a meeting has no agenda, it has no focus and quite likely, it has no point. Hold up, agenda? That’s so antiquated. When you think of a meeting agenda, you may have a certain old school image in mind. Perhaps you think of a formal list with fancy formatting that oozes jargon and platitudes? I’m not talking about one of those. Instead, a meeting needs some form of expressed intent and that should be written and delivered to meeting participants in advance. It may be expressed in an email, meeting invite, a document – the method of delivery is dependent on the organisation. Truly, the agenda may take any form, but it ought to be written down somewhere.

Even regularly occurring meetings need an agenda of some kind. Or perhaps, recurring meetings need written rules more than agendas. Yes, rules and consequences for breaking the rules (because rules without consequences are also useless).

2) Meetings that do not require (or even inspire) participants to take notes of any kind should make you think twice. Such meetings are designed for information sharing. Informational meetings have their time and place, but often these meetings are better transposed into on-demand video recordings or written documentation. But who would consume that stuff, you say? Well, if your employees are not consuming updates that they have been directed to consume, I would say you have bigger problems.

If attendees are not moved to take note of anything during a meeting, then the meeting is pointless.

3) If a meeting produces no written artifact at all, it is a complete waste of time. That is, if there are no minutes or follow-up emails or other documentation produced, what was the point of the meeting? Again, it must have been simply “informational” whatever that truly means. To get to the heart of it, meetings without written output are directionless. These meetings produce nothing – no directives, no action items, no work. A meeting that ends without work of any kind is not an effective office meeting. Wouldn’t you agree?

What do meetings cost?

With so many demands on our time and energy, who can afford to regularly attend useless meetings? Show me an organisation that can afford to have their staff needlessly waste time. Think about the cost of all those worthless meetings. Imagine the compounded costs. You do the maths – it’s frightening.

Social Meetings are a waste of time

This is self-evident, but think about it. How many of your office meetings are just social calls? The rap session, the jaw session, the bullshit session (where bullshit means nonsense, not ego-based deception) are all time wasters. Some attendees even show up to meetings just to kill time. These people ask pointless questions that have already been answered or questions that just plain don’t matter. Employees who are hungry for human interaction tend to sabotage real meetings. They do their damnedest to run down the clock and in the end, they waste everybody’s time. Ineffectual managers allow their serious meetings to turn into social meetings.

Effective managers ensure that their meetings are documented from start to finish. Because if it wasn’t documented, it didn’t happen.