Have you ever been in a two-hour meeting with dozens of co-workers and only two or three people are talking?
Unless you were one of the few whose voice was being heard, you probably asked yourself, “Why am I here?”
Next, you probably said, “Who called this meeting? This could’ve been a memo!”
You were correct.
Don’t Be a Calendar Hog
Chances are good that, unless you practice efficient inclusion, someone else curses your name too when a meeting invitation hits their Outlook.
However, you can endear yourself to co-workers if you judiciously exclude team members when their presence is not necessary. One caveat: This works best in a high-trust environment.
Whether your organization is struggling with a lack of trust or not, the explanation to a co-worker who will not be invited sounds something like this:
“I don’t want to waste your time. My goal is for you to remain focused on your priorities, rather than bog you down with one more needless meeting. I promise you’ll get a summary of everything decided, and unless you’re highly allergic to something you see in the memo, we’ll proceed with the work until it’s your time for hands-on involvement.”
Most importantly, notify co-workers up front to intercept potential misunderstandings or disputes. Make sure that goodwill is established by clearly stating your desire to protect their time.
Decide Who’s In and Who’s Out
An inefficient meeting organizer draws the net and gathers everyone to the table in hopes that “group wisdom” will reach a consensus. (Good luck with that.)
To practice efficient inclusion, you must determine an agenda and goals for the meeting first. Then, invite team members who have active roles in decision-making.
One helpful tool is the Stakeholder Prioritization matrix (see below) as described by A. L. Mendelow in his book Environmental Scanning–The Impact of the Stakeholder Concept. Stakeholders can block your progress or advance it.
High Power / High Interest (Manage Closely) – are the ones mostly likely tasked to fulfill and execute the steps that lead to completing the goal. Engage these team members fully and always include them in meetings.
High Power / Low Interest (Keep Satisfied) – are likely your senior officers. They will be accountable for the success or failure of the organization, but they are not “in the trenches.” Keep them satisfied with updates, but do not overload them with meetings. Always be ready to respond or pivot if your plans are vetoed by these players.
Low Power / High Interest (Keep Informed) – are your subject matter experts. While they do not need to be in every meeting, their specialty area of knowledge may be quite helpful at strategic steps. Enlist their input on sub-committees or breakout sessions specific to them. Otherwise, a memo or email thread will suffice.
Low Power / Low Interest (Monitor) – are not included in the decision-making process. Periodic updates through emails, memos or company newsletters should be enough communication.
You can “grease the skids” by conducting a stakeholder analysis before inviting attendees. Be judicious. Exclude co-workers who have little interest or power in this particular planning stage.
Define Roles Within a Critical Project
Another useful mnemonic for determining whom to include in a meeting is the acronym RACI.
A RACI Chart defines roles stakeholders play in a complex project. This allows the meeting planner to look at the meeting agenda and know who’s critical to have attend vs. who’s “nice to have.” It also helps prevent the sidebar conversations that distract the group when too many cooks get in the kitchen. RACI determines who owns what portion of the work and empowers them to “swim in their lane” for the greater good of the entire organization.
- R = Responsible, the teammate or department doing the actual work
- A = Accountable, this person is most-invested in the success of the project and a decision-maker
- C = Consulted, internal or external subject-matter experts with additional details that are critical for success
- I = Informed, these players need to be kept in the loop on major updates without overcommunicating to them.
The main point is to sort the players into tiers and to engage them appropriately with regards to frequency of meetings or written updates, based upon where they fall on the matrix.
Efficient Inclusion, Trading Places
What if the meeting planner is one of your top leadership team? No one wants to go to the boss and say, “You know, this just isn’t the best use of my time.”
This is when you and your peers divide and conquer. Establish an equitable rotation of who represents your team, group, or department at recurring meetings.
Since leaders go first, your proposal can be phrased like this:
“I’ll take one for the team and report back to you. Is there anything keeping you up at night that you’d like me to bring up? Would you feel more comfortable if you were there yourself to hash this out?”
The key is to do this out of a sign of respect for the stakeholders involved. In a low trust setting, this offer could be misinterpreted by a rival as a plot to undermine them. Make it an upfront contract that promises to be mutually beneficial.
“We don’t all have to be at this meeting. Let’s agree on how we’ll keep minutes and report back to the team, and then we can all take turns going so that we’re not inundated with superfluous meetings. Sound fair?”
You want to have just enough involvement so that you and your team can keep your arms around the project, but not so much that it eats time that should be used for completing the project. Sending one person from your team strikes the appropriate balance that we call “efficient inclusion.”
Assess and Adjust
Always evaluate the effectiveness of your meetings with an eye toward return on the time invested by each participant. Were all key decision-makers present? Is a follow-up meeting or series of recurring meetings needed to keep a project moving? Could you have disseminated information more efficiently with a memo?
Over-collaboration leads to burn-out. In work environments where the most capable are also the most taxed by emails, phone calls, and meetings – mindful exclusion, with a thoughtful explanation ahead of time to prevent insult, is a politically savvy play.
Sometimes, the way to get the best work out of a star employee is to uninvite them from a meeting so they can remain on task with other priorities.
That is the epitome of efficient inclusion.