No More (Traditional) Meetings

By Adam Welcome
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How many meetings that you attend are a complete waste of time?


My apologies upfront for starting this blog post with such negativity, but something has to be done.


I use to think it was just me who didn’t enjoy sitting in a room, at a table with other people and spending hours on end talking or mostly listening, without having any clear objectives or takeaways. 


But then I started traveling around the country speaking and consulting with other educators and I realized I wasn’t alone!


“I need more time in the day.”


Hey, I get it. 


Then stop having so many meetings! 


Years ago when I was a young Principal we had these mandatory meetings twice a month. All the Principals, Directors, Coordinators, and Superintendent would come together in a large conference room to ‘meet.’ 
There was an agenda, but so much of it didn’t pertain to the majority of the people in the meeting. Now I’m not saying people that work together should not get together to talk and discuss the work that’s happening with them, there just has to be a better way.


During one such meeting I kept my phone on the table and kept track on a stopwatch every time something was discussed that had some relation to my work individually as a Principal, and also that would directly impact my school. Our meetings would last anywhere from two to three hours on average and only seventeen minutes of that meeting was relevant.


Seventeen minutes! 


One-hundred and sixty three minutes that I could never get back, could not spend connecting with students, collaborating with teachers, discussing curriculum with other leaders, and I still had to drive back to my school which took another fifteen minutes.


There had to be a better way, and I was going to find one.


I scoured the app store and found one called Meeting App. It was super basic with it’s functionality, but delivered a huge amount of information. All you had to do was plug in everyones yearly salary who was at the meeting, how long the meeting lasted, and the app would tell you how much that particular meeting cost the district. It was absolutely brilliant, and our meetings were EXPENSIVE.


There was a little background work for me to do, and luckily school employees have their salary schedules listed on district websites so it was pretty easy to plug all that information in – and then I waited.


How long was the meeting going to last?


Two hours?


Three?


Maybe even four?


The meeting ended after two and a half-hours, I plugged in the final data set and hit ‘generate meeting cost.’


I couldn’t believe it. For me to say I couldn’t believe something is a pretty big statement. Not much surprises me, I’ve had lots of experiences throughout my life, I’m super open minded – and I couldn’t believe that our meeting cost around $7,600 dollars. 


Forget the time each of us lost sitting there, we just spent $7,600 dollars of tax payers money and I couldn’t speak for the other attendees, but it surely wasn’t worth that to me.


If we’re going to take the time to think about a meeting. 


To schedule the meeting. 


Spend more time re-scheduling to cater with everyones needs and existing conflicts with other meetings.


Travel time to and from the meeting. 


And then the time spent sitting around at a table, listening to others talk.


It needs to be worth all that time and the money involved.


I was feeling frustrated and also empowered. My initial thoughts were the time had come to ‘meet’ with my Superintendent to present all the data and observations I’d gathered. We were going to make some change.


But I stopped. There would be questions and I didn’t have many answers.
So we changed habits at my own school.


Think big, act small. 


Have a goal of making larger change in your organization, but start on a smaller scale with what you can control and impact, because in the long run you’re going to have more impact with what you can control.


We no longer scheduled hour long meetings. You can’t tell me that whatever you need to talk about you need an entire sixty minutes to cover the topic. We put the meeting cap at forty-five minutes and if it was needed (it never was) there was an optional fifteen minute extension.


I changed the name from Staff Meeting to Staff Gathering. 


Language is important and how you talk and present something has an effect that will hopefully change behavior. People didn’t look at gatherings the same way they did meetings and it changed many preconceived notions with past practice and helped to alleviate prior meeting scars – me included.


We started to implement standing gatherings. Unless you had an injury or some type of medical condition – nobody sat for the duration of the gathering. When people are standing, they’re usually moving their body a little bit and when humans do that, the blood to their brain is flowing at a greater rate. 


You think better. You focus on priorities. And you only cover was is completely necessary.


My personal favorite was walking meetings. As it was, most of my day was spent in classrooms and on campus connecting with students and collaborating with teachers, and our walking meetings took that to an entirely new level. People who had only previously met with me in the office, now had the opportunity to connect with classrooms, see new programs, ask their own questions, get some steps in and we accomplished whatever it is we discussed. 


If you only sit in your office and talk, that’s all you’re going to do.


If you walk and talk, you’re going to get so much more accomplished.


Like many new ideas that may seem radical at first, very quickly after our mindset shift, it became common practice and people gathered together with intention. Most educators that I talk with always say they don’t have enough time. You have time what you make time for, stop having so many meaningless meetings and wasting peoples time.


And here’s the caveat – were there times when we had a ’traditional’ meeting?

You bet we did. 


Meetings with parents. 


I was on the expulsion panel for the district and those are pretty tight in their protocols and more by the book.


Explaining new testing protocols or procedures for blood born pathogens – more traditional.


When you can, however you can – be more intentional. If something usually takes two hours, schedule it for ninety minutes. If you go into this change with an open and drastic mindset that you’re going to make some big changes, you’ll land somewhere in the middle and work yourself towards something that benefits everyone and gives all your people more time.


No More (Traditional) Meetings

Adam Welcome

Adam Welcome

Adam has been an elementary school teacher, Principal, Director of Innovation for a large school district in the Bay Area and is also an author and speaker.

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