Anyone want more meetings? No.
What about better meetings? Fewer meetings???!!! Yes, if only!
The ‘meetings beast’ remains ferocious in its tireless ability to gobble up our precious time and vitality. With ever less time to do the rest of the work, bad meetings stop us doing the academic work we want to do most.
Our university is currently undergoing rapid change and budget reductions. Following many other universities in the UK, Australia, and Canada, the administrative structures and supports that academics and academic initiatives receive is being consolidated. The number of staff supporting aspects of teaching and research administration will be reduced. Many of you have gone through this already—for many of us: there is much more to come.
Academics are well used to meeting sky high expectations. But less support for administrative work really tests our broader work skills.
Watching this played out in our own setting reminds us of a core truth at the centre of our own work: to truly excel in academic work, academics can’t just be good at academic work.
Having good habits and systems to manage all our work maximizes time and energy to make the best teaching and research happen. There is no one area more in need of our improvement than meetings. Better, and ideally, fewer meetings too.
Yet, our academic workplaces overflow with bad meeting practices. Meetings that are unnecessary, unproductive, unfocused, too long, too frequent, or involve the wrong people.
Observing this, we may mistakenly think that meetings don’t really matter or can’t be improved.
But meetings are the biggest killer of good research and teaching.
Moreover, bad meeting practices don’t happen by accident. They are also as avoidable as they are unsustainable.
So why do so few of us get really serious about getting more effective and efficient in meeting? To work on getting better at meetings as assiduously as we work on improving our writing or methods skills? Getting better at meetings helps others, our organizations, and ourselves realize our most precious academic work contributions.
In this month’s remarkable resource, we will address 3 new ‘P’s of successful meetings to add to the 9 that we originally published in How to be a Happy Academic. Also, download the printable resource that you can pin up on your wall near your desk to remind you about the now 12 ‘P’s of Successful Meetings.
Remarkable Resource: 12 ‘P’s of Successful Meetings
When we first wrote “How to be a Happy Academic” in 2018, in Chapter 11 we included a section on how to have better meetings. These were described as 9 ‘P’s: purpose and payoffs; participants; pre-work; plan; process; parking lot; post-meeting assessment; and post-work. Since then, having taught workshops to academics all over the world and in response to a new era of virtual meetings we now add 3 more ‘P’s.
Politeness is #10, and is key to improving our meetings. To be clear, this does not mean putting on a happy face no matter what and doing what psychologists call “surface acting”. Rather: consider others, think before you speak, and contribute with empathy. Most importantl: avoid behaviours that derail meetings and are ultimately impolite and unprofessional such as: having side conversations while someone else has the floor, , not truly listening, working on other work instead of actively engaging, and not respecting meeting time allotments. To go even deeper: seek feedback from trusted others, colleagues and line-managers about your tone and contributions to meetings.
Punctuality is #11 Speaking about respecting time, there’s nothing worse then someone arriving late to a meeting and then the whole meeting being put on hold to rewind and fill the tardy-attendee in on what they had missed. Of course, there are always extenuating circumstances that can’t be avoided, but if possible we can improve meetings by being on time. If you’re chairing a meeting and others arrive late, it is often better to welcome them but let them know that they will be caught up on what was missed at the end of the meeting to signal to the rest of the attendees that their time is valued and they will not need to hear the content twice. To keep the meeting itself on track, include times next to agenda items. It is the responsibility of everyone, meeting chairs and all attendees – to respect time allocations throughout the meeting and end meetings on time.
We’ve never seen the format of meetings be so widely discussed as since the onset of the pandemic. As we moved to working remotely, many of us moved from having a minority of our meetings on virtual platforms to all of our meetings being online. It was exhausting, and Zoom fatigue is rampant. We have found that a key antidote to this is ensuring meetings are…
Participatory, the #12 ‘P’ on our list. Think about how a meeting can be formatted better to encourage participation from attendees. Can meetings incorporate break-out rooms to stimulate connection and dialogue, especially if idea generation is needed? Can a collaboration tool like Google’s Jam Board, Mural, or Miro be used so that attendees can use their hands to be creative in adding visuals to a virtual discussion? Can chairing be rotated, or various participants each “mini-chair” a piece of the meeting to deepen individual engagement? As noted described previously as part of Plan – now more than ever conscious choices about meetings are necessary.