Meetings have acquired a bit of a bum rap these days in the business world. And in all honestly, that reputation hasn’t been completely unearned. It just seems that in so many cases meetings have lost their focus … and strayed from their proper function.
However, face-to-face meetings can be extremely valuable tools if you follow some basic productivity tips to use them correctly. I’ve found that they are still the best way to get everyone on the same page. What’s more, meetings can also elicit passionate discussion on important topics and are often the most effective way to share valuable information.
These days, however, I’m afraid, meetings have become a bit too much like routines that actually hinder productivity at work. In an earlier article, I quoted a figure from the online meeting provider Fuze, which that stated that roughly $37 billion dollars annually are wasted on pointless meetings. Clearly, we can be doing them better.
There are a lot of excellent productivity tips out there on how to improve things. Many of them have to do with preparing for a meeting before holding it and having the right attendees. However, another useful workplace productivity tip is allowing meetings to be more of a free-flowing affair. I don’t mean not having a tight agenda or structure—those things are actually imperatives. I mean that not everyone who comes needs to be there the entire time.
Allowing (even encouraging) people to come and go can help productivity in the workplace in two ways. It can make the meetings themselves more effective, and also keep them from being a drain on other productive efforts.
The Art of Leaving a Meeting
When I think of meetings, I often return to the words of the poet and philosopher Kenny Rogers, who once said, “You got to know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em.”
It’s much the same with meetings. Sometimes you just have to ask yourself, “Should I stay, or should I go?”
To wit: It can be equally as counterproductive to leave a meeting too early as it can to pointlessly hang around in one. The idea of being able to come and go is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. Your presence may still be necessary, even after you’ve said your piece. Questions concerning your work might be left unanswered if you dash at the first sign of a lull in the action.
The art of exiting early has to do with two components:
- Having a legitimate reason to do so
- Whenever possible, communicating that reason beforehand.
It also means that you are staying actively involved while you are there, and are not just looking for an opportunity to bail.
When it’s Okay to Leave a Meeting
An emerging situation with a client:
I used to hate returning to my desk after a meeting to find that I had a client with an urgent issue that I could have remedied if I hadn’t been otherwise occupied. Saying “Sorry, I was in a meeting,” just never worked for me.
Of course, with today’s level connectivity, we don’t have to remain blind during our meetings. And if a problem arises with a client that genuinely requires immediate attention, it is okay to get up and address it. Particularly if it is not an issue you can fix by dashing off a quick text or two.
In this situation, it is better to leave rather than remain in the room. Client’s concerns are important, but so is what’s happening in the meeting. It’s more than distracting when you are continually pecking away on your phone while someone else is speaking, or, even worse, taking a call. It’s just plain rude and unprofessional.
A Shift in Focus: Sometimes in a general staff meeting you have said your part relating to IT and the focus then shifts over to Accounting. Is there really anything you can do to mitigate the trials and tribulations of accounts receivable? Likely, it is time for you to make your departure and find some worthwhile endeavor.
You can let everyone know that you have something important that requires your immediate attention. You will be telling the truth. Even if you are just re-organizing your files, it will be more productive than being a non-contributor at a meeting.
You genuinely have something more important to do: Please don’t take this as me saying you should approach meetings with the attitude that you always have something better to do. If a meeting is well planned and coordinated, it can certainly be the most productive thing for you at that moment.
There are times, however, when you have something that is pressing, such as a deadline. In those situations, make an appearance at the meeting to ensure that your presence is not mission critical to some even larger issue. If not, give your input and politely excuse yourself.
Handling early departures as a manager
A handy productivity tip for managers is that you should “invite” people to leave meetings early if they are no longer participating, have some pressing matter, or if their portion of the meeting has concluded. This is not a negative or combative stance. It is just letting people know that leaving is okay for productivity’s sake.
In truth, your team members usually aren’t sticking around because they are keen to waste their time and everyone else’s. More frequently, they are fearful of making some breach of etiquette. It is your job to let them know that they’re not committing career suicide by exiting to attend to some other matter.
Also, when you are inviting people to leave, don’t just jettison the same junior person first every single time. That can get a bit demoralizing and sends the wrong message about their value to your organization. Instead, sometimes dismiss everyone else and spend some quality time with the junior guys. You can actually learn a lot by hearing their perspective.
The art of exiting gracefully
Now that we’ve established that it’s okay to leave a meeting under certain circumstances, let’s see how we can do it professionally and courteously.
For starters, if possible, let your boss, or your team members, or whoever is holding the meeting, know beforehand about your likely early exit. At some convenient point early in the proceedings, also announce to the rest of the attendees that you must leave before the conclusion of the meeting.
By doing this, no one is taken by surprise by your sudden departure. It also allows those who have questions for you to address them before you suddenly vanish.
Remain considerate of those who are still participating. It’s no problem if you want to quietly gather up your things before you leave. But if someone is in the middle of speaking, it is rude to disrupt the focus of those who are listening. Waiting a minute or so until there is a pause in the action will not lead to the ruination of your career.
Finally, if you can, position yourself near the exit. This will allow you to make as unobtrusive a departure as possible.