Wednesday, October 7, 2015

How to Get Away With Murder(ing Your Meetings)

I've written a few posts now on meetings, the omnipresent bane of office workers everywhere. We all hate them, and yet often, we all attend them without question. We sit through "death by PowerPoint" where slide after slide presents so little value to propelling business forward. We engage in endless discussion, entertaining the whims of those that just want to discuss rather than do. We allow meetings to clog as much as four out of five days on some of our calendars. So here's a thought: kill your meetings. Want to know how to get away with their murders? Try some of these tactics.

Pre-meditated Meeting Murder

Start by finding out the agenda for the meeting. If the meeting invite itself does not contain a detailed agenda, reach out to the meeting organizer and determine the specific purpose for the meeting. If you can, go so far as to ask, "What would we need to know to make this meeting not happen?" Then go and spend some effort gathering exactly that information and distributing it to the meeting participants. Suggest that you have everything covered and perhaps the meeting can be cancelled. If others raise objections, work to quash those before the meeting as well.

Get an Alibi

Wonder how to not attend so many meetings? Don't attend them. To be fair, if your calendar gets so full of meetings, popular meeting times will get booked over and over again. I remember a time when I had five meetings scheduled at the exact same time. Obviously I could not attend all five. While I tried to work with others to send some delegates to cover for me, some meetings just got dropped. To avoid that situation, you can just skip the meetings anyway, but you need a good reason. Consult with your management to understand if you have to attend a particular meeting and if the response is lukewarm, suggest what other work you will be able to accomplish if you can skip a particular meeting. Once you have agreement, you have air cover and a valid explanation if someone decides to escalate why you weren't in a particular meeting. Let the meeting organizer know that you will not be making it and offer to provide feedback in advance if required. Make sure you have that alibi and management approval, though, or you will come out looking like a slacker or incompetent at managing your schedule.

Hide the Body

I recommend scheduling time on your calendar to actually do work, rather than just maintaining an endless to do list that you keep snoozing. However, scheduling time on your calendar also has an added benefit: it blocks out time in your calendar, where you look less available for meetings. You will still have to move and reschedule your personal work from time to time to make room for a meeting you actually need to attend, but it may cause you to have a little more time to work in between.

Colonel Mustard With the Lead Pipe in the Ballroom

If you do end up in the meeting, you can still try to kill it, but recognize you are in a public place and will have to bludgeon it repeatedly. Work as both a contributor and a pseudo-facilitator to help drive the meeting to the objective. Use phrases like "here's what we're trying to accomplish" and "can we keep on point" to guide the meeting to a particular end. Tag team with the meeting organizer to drive the meeting towards a decision and closure. Give yourself bonus points for every five minutes you can shave off the meeting. Don't be rude, as that will hurt your ability to persuade others to join your cause, but be firm and direct in your facilitation. 

Avoiding Double Jeopardy

Once the meeting ends, do everything in your power to avoid a "follow-up" meeting. Ask questions: "Why do we need a follow-up?" or "What more do we need to talk about?" If the facilitator schedules the follow-up anyway, use one of the above tactics to try to kill it if you can. Make sure someone (you if not the facilitator) takes excellent notes in meetings and distributes them afterwards with highlighted actions, timelines, and decisions.


You cannot kill every meeting. Sometimes you will be forced to serve time in the conference room or on the web share and bridge. But with some practice and effort, you can start to reduce the time that meetings take up on your calendar and force yourself and your teammates into a productive rhythm in between. Got any other tips for killing meetings and getting away with it? I'd love to hear about them. If you are on the email subscription list, hit reply and let me know. If you're not, you should sign up now, but also drop me your answer on Twitter.

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