by Steve Adubato, PhD

After Memorial Day is a perfect time for businesses to consider how they handle meetings. Many organizations hold meetings just for the sake of it. I call them “routine” meetings—your “routine”, 8:00 a.m., Monday morning meeting. You hold it just because that’s what your team has always done. The agenda is the same. The communication pattern is predictable.

I’ve said it in this column in the past, but it bears repeating. The way we communicate in meetings speaks volumes about our organizational culture. Our meetings impact our brand. If our meetings are painful and ponderous, our people will not be engaged and enthused, which will have a long-term impact on employee morale. Conversely, if our meetings are participatory and goal-oriented, it is likely to have a positive impact on team members.

So, over the summer, why not consider taking a long, hard look at your meeting schedule and ask whether that “routine” meeting should even be held. With this in mind, consider the following:

--Is there a better alternative to sharing important information than actually holding a meeting where every team member is involved? Often, the answer is yes. If a meeting simply requires employees to give weekly reports or updates, why not ask each team member to distribute a one-page memo with bullet points highlighting any progress they’ve made since the last meeting. This communication approach will save time and money. Further, it will communicate the message to your employees that you value THEIR time.

--Instead of holding a meeting where everyone from different locations needs to travel (which takes valuable time and costs money), why not consider conducting more phone and/or video conferences? This form of communication is particularly effective for professionals who know each other well and have a history of interacting on a variety of projects and initiatives. The level of trust is high and the need to see each other face-to-face and interpret non-verbal communication is not as important as if you are meeting for the first time. Simply put, you don’t have to hold a meeting to communicate. Think through other ways of sharing information, brainstorming and making decisions with your team.

--Ask meeting participants what THEY would like to see on the agenda. Instead of having one person drive the agenda, why not have meeting participants invest more in the process? As meeting leader, send out an e-mail to participants asking them to contribute one specific agenda item. Also ask them to make a simple case for why that item is important for all participants to hear. You are not making a promise that every proposed item will be included, but you will get a much broader and diverse set of ideas that you can ultimately choose from as the meeting leader. Another benefit of this approach is that when meeting participants see their agenda items included, they feel more ownership in the meeting and therefore have more reason to be energized and invested in it.

--Finally, ask who should and should not be at a particular meeting. A coaching client recently shared that she reluctantly asked a colleague to join her in a meeting with a prospective client even though she was worried about how he would conduct himself. Predictably, within minutes, the colleague turned off the prospect and any potential to conduct business was lost. Afterwards, my client said she wished she had trusted her judgment and had gone alone or selected a different colleague to join her. The point here is that as a leader, you have a responsibility to ask who should or should not be at an internal or external meeting.