Five Types Of Meetings That Should Be Emails
Our notebook titled 'Meetings that could have been emails' has been a bestseller since the early days of WTF Notebooks. Unsurprisingly, thousands of Brits can relate as many businesses waste hours every week on pointless in-person meet-ups and video calls.
So it pays to look at some of those types of team gatherings and to think twice before sending out that meeting invite: Is an in-person chat really necessary? Would it be more efficient to shoot out an email to individuals or a group of people than to pull everyone away from their work and to assemble them in the boardroom?
After some research and talking to managers and office workers from different industries, we found the top five types of meetings that can most likely be dealt with in emails.
#1: 'Quick question' meetings
Picture this: You've just talked to a client on the phone and it sparked a couple of interesting questions you'd love to relay to your team. While their input may be valuable, their time is too, so think twice about whether a meeting is really necessary. Especially if you need very definite answers (yes/no) or specific data points, a get-together can be a waste of time for everyone involved.
This works as a replacement for 1-on-1 meetings but also for team conferences as you can send one email to the whole team and then ask them to reply—just make sure they don't reply to all, or else everybody's inbox will get flooded with answers that aren't relevant to everyone.
One great benefit of asking questions through email is that you're giving people the chance to answer them at their convenience. Many people in office jobs don't jump to respond to emails right away. Instead they read the question and think through their response before sending it when they have a minute to do so, giving you a feedback they've had a chance to ponder about.
#2: Feedback sessions
Feedback sessions are another type of meeting that often make sense to be replaced by an email.
Depending on the different characters within your team, bringing people together for feedback create an awkward situation: Imagine you're presenting a document or strategy plan to a group and then proceed to watch everyone read it in silence. Nobody wants to be in that meeting.
When a team member finally speaks, a common phenomenon can often be observed. Known as 'groupthink', this phenomenon is a situation where individuals of a team get subconsciously persuaded by someone else's opinion: A couple of team members confidently share their views while everyone else is listening. The group's desire for consensus results in silence from all other participants, and their feedback and ideas never see the light of day.
This can be avoided by giving people the chance to respond independently and without input from others. Specifically if the work or piece you require input on is best explained in a written or visualised form. Simply attach documents to an email and ask your recipients to review the attachment on their own. The result is true feedback and unique responses that will help drive the best outcome.
If you have follow-up questions or want the team to debate opinions or ideas for improvement you can always hold a meeting afterwards and present the individual responses.
You have some news to share and it's time for an announcement meeting.
But when the only goal is to get information to the team, and when discussions are discouraged in order to save time, then why is everyone here? If you're communicating news one-way without any need for dialog or input, holding a meeting is a waste of time.
Instead, broadcast the news to your team in an email. For positive and exceptional news you can even style the content using different font sizes and colours that underline the importance of you announcement.
But there are exceptions! Here are three situations where announcement meetings can make sense:
- When the news are great and groundbreaking, or to honour the achievements of individuals or a group in order to boost the team's mood.
- When management sees an in-person meeting as a way to be available to their teams. However, in these cases it's important to encourage dialogue and the opportunity to ask questions.
- When the news are bad. Particularly when leadership is sharing sensitive information that could negatively impact morale, it helps to deliver this in person.
#4: Poorly attended meetings
How often has the following situation happened to you?
You want to get the whole team together to share ideas or update everyone on work progress. So you send out an e-invite for a session at a time that hopefully suits everybody. But one after the other, key members reply to say that they can't make it.
Depending on the topics you want to discuss in the meeting, an email may save all team members valuable time: Send out a group email that covers all the relevant information you would normally brief on in the first minutes of the meeting. This way you give everyone, even those with packed calendars, the opportunity to get up to speed in advance, which means that the actual in-person meeting can be wrapped up much faster.
If you want to go one step further, include a bullet list of points you want to discuss and questions you need answered, so your team can prepare for them prior to the meeting—again, saving valuable time on the day the group comes together.
#5: WIP check-in
It's been a few weeks since the team met to discuss a project and you feel like you're not quite up to speed on progress. It's time to assemble the troops again, right? Wrong.
Getting 'Work in Progress' updates in person is one of the most time-wasting types of meetings that could be dealt with in writing: Send an email (or instant message if your office uses a chat system) to individuals asking them for an update on the project. Or better yet, to kill two birds with one stone, ask for their to-do list. From that you'll get an idea of where the project is at and whether there are delays and who needs to action to deal with them.
Another reason why WIP meetings are better put in an email is because they don't always go as planned: How often have you asked for a status update and heard someone say, "I haven't been able to do this yet because of X"? Nobody wants to be in a meeting just to hear that sentence, let alone be the one who has to say it in person. It's easier and faster in an email, so instead of scheduling a time to discuss, schedule a time to work. That's a far better use of everyone's time.
Bonus: 'No agenda' meetings
How many times have you been invited to meetings without a clear objective, only to sit there and ask yourself, "What's the point of the meeting?"
To hold a productive conference it needs to have a rough agenda, or at the very least a goal to work towards. It should go without saying but you can't gather your entire team in the boardroom, hoping that something will happen. For a meeting to be successful and productive you need a strategy.
If you know that a meeting could be beneficial but can't quite put your finger on the goal, don't hesitate to ask for help. Send an email to the key members involved in the project and ask them to assist you in putting a meeting strategy in place that will get you the outcome you want to achieve.
And if a meeting can't be avoided...
If there's no way around avoiding a meeting, at least get your staff the right tools to take notes, like these morale boosting notebooks with hilarious titles—customisable and printed to order in the US: