Meetings are pure communication opportunities – people speak, people listen, people discuss, people ask and people answer. If you’re not going to be contributing to or benefiting from one of those communication opportunities, then maybe the meeting is not for you.

Calling or attending a meeting should be decided on whether or how well it will enhance organizational effectiveness and individual or collective productivity. At best, good meetings represent only half of all meetings. And even if it’s a “good” meeting, 91% of meeting attendees across the country say they daydream and 73% do other work.

With those data in mind, one can hardly make a case for maintaining the status quo. So let’s think about “coloring outside the lines” of one of the most enduring old-school communication practices in the business world and ask ourselves these basic questions before calling or attending a meeting:

If I’m the meeting leader …

  1. Am I holding the meeting because it’s our regular time and not because we actually have a need to meet? If that’s the case, can I cut it super short – maybe only 5 minutes of “good and welfare” or a “share” of some kind – and then let people get back to their work?
  2. Am I prepared with the meeting’s purpose, agenda, time limits and relevant participants? If not, should I reschedule and redefine the parameters rather than winging it and potentially wasting the time of a lot other busy people?

If I’m an attendee …

  1. Do I actually need to attend this meeting? In other words, will it be helpful/meaningful if I can contribute something or will it be helpful/meaningful if I can learn something? Can I decline to attend without repercussion?
  2. Once there and realizing it’s not a relevant meeting for me, do I need to stay? Do I stay simply to avoid appearing impolite? Or can I duck out, get work done, and explain/excuse myself later?

The meeting is a behemoth left over from the 20th century business culture. While we’ve changed so much about how we work and collaborate in the 21st century, it’s kind of amazing that meeting protocols have not changed very much at all. We gather in groups and measure the communication in quantity, not quality.

Not surprisingly, companies like Amazon are bucking the status quo and giving us some great ideas and examples for improving meeting culture. So my challenge to you is this: if Jeff Bezos can color outside the lines – in the interest of effectiveness and productivity – then maybe you should too!

Beth Levine