Is This Meeting Really Necessary?

Michael Glazer is a Tokyo-based Senior Consultant whose client work spans 15 countries across four continents. Learn more about Michael here.

We’ve all been there: staring at an Outlook meeting invitation that contains little more information than a three-word description of the meeting topic and the name of the meeting organizer. Regardless of whether we decide to accept or decline, most of us have two questions on our minds: “Is this meeting really necessary?” and “if it is, must I attend?”

For most of us, time is our most precious resource. So making good decisions about how we spend it is an important part of our daily work. I’m no exception, and here’s what I want to know before accepting a meeting request:

Do you have a clear meeting goal?

  • Ambiguous goals easily contribute to ineffective meetings. Where is the agenda (a topic for a future post)? What is the desired meeting output and why does it matter? Do people know why they are in the meeting?

Does the goal require the input of all the participants?

  • Input can include things like information, opinions, wisdom or expertise. This is an important question when considering how to design the meeting or whether to meet in the first place. Consider sending an email or other alternative if you do not need others’ input face-to-face.

Is it necessary to have the commitment of the participants to achieve the goal?

  • This is about roles and responsibilities. Meeting participants who are invested in the meeting topic are more likely to achieve the meeting goal. It’s also a good idea to think beyond the scope of the meeting. Will each participant be expected to implement the agreements or take actions based on what was decided in the meeting?

Do the participants intend to contribute to the meeting?

  • Negative attitudes (not to be confused with disagreement or resistance to proposed ideas) among participants make it unlikely that the meeting goals will be met.

How can I add value to the meeting?

  • One thing a good agenda will do is clarify participants’ roles. Clearly defined roles help individual participants come well prepared to meetings. They can also help busy people know when it makes sense to decline or delegate attendance to someone else.

I look to hear a “yes” together with sensible specifics when I ask the first four questions. For the last one, I listen to hear whether what’s wanted is something only I can do. And if so, I check whether I need to attend the meeting to add the value that’s expected of me.

How about you? How do you decide whether to say yes to requests for your time?