Healthy Nonprofit Work Culture: Shouldn't That 2 Hour Conference Call Have Been An Email? | Beth's Blog

Healthy Nonprofit Work Culture: Shouldn’t That 2 Hour Conference Call Have Been An Email?

Facilitation, Leadership, Social Media Policy

That is a slogan on a t-shirt, and while meant as a joke, it is all too familiar for many nonprofits.   Meetings that waste your time!

When we talk about healthy nonprofit work culture, the fit nonprofit, it goes beyond having organizations create wellness policies and practices that encourage staff to eat right, exercise, take vacation time, and get enough sleep.    And, healthy meetings are not just about avoiding salty and sugary snacks.    It’s about creating collective organizational energy and optimizing it so we’re not wasting time and taking into account everyone’s individual productivity cycles.

We all have too many meetings and many organizations have a meeting culture that spawns more meetings, and the cycle of wasted time continues, stealing our creativity, energy, and getting in the way of getting results!   How can we avoid that trap?

  • Do you really need a meeting? Ken Norton writes in this article “Meetings That Don’t Suck” suggests killing standing meetings for check-ins where people go around the table and offer an update.    Better yet, when your default is to schedule a meeting, stop and ask if it is really needed.   Could it be an email instead?    Think about the ROI – tally up the cost of the hours of people in the meeting vs the opportunity of the cost of the decision.  Many times that time could have been better invested.
  • Does that meeting really need a whole hour? There is an old adage that says “Work expands to the time you schedule for it.”  This means if your default is to schedule an hour meeting, than the meeting will take an hour – and many times run over.  However, if you schedule meetings to be shorter, you are disciplined about getting through the work in less time.    Consider experimenting with scheduling half-hour meetings for 15 minutes and one-hour meetings for 45 minutes.    And, starting them 15 minutes after the hour or 15 minutes before the hour helps you keep to the time limit.
  • End on Time or End Early Time is our most valuable resource.  So when you schedule a meeting, you are asking people for their valuable time – even if they are your in-house team!   Be respectful.   And, if you get through your agenda a few minutes early, end the meeting.  People will be grateful to have a minute to write up their notes or make a mental shift into the next task.
  • Why Not A Walking Meeting? Sitting is the new smoking and very unhealthy.  Why not try a walking meeting?  They are especially useful for one-on-ones or team brainstorms.   Listen to this Nonprofit Radio show on walking meetings.
  • Keep the Weekly Energy Chart in Mind: According to Tony Schwartz, in “The Way We Are Working Is Not Working,” certain types of meetings and work require more energy than others.    The chart below reflects the common pattern for organizations and individuals in terms of their energy over the course of a typical week.  This means it makes sense to tackle more intense types of meetings and work flow when the energy is high.    For example, a planning or brainstorming session might work best if schedule on Tuesday or Wednesday, not on Thursday or Friday.     Keep that in mind when sending out possible dates for team meetings.

Source: Tony Schwartz – The Way We Are Working Isn’t Working

The bottom line:  be respectful of everyone’s time.  However, there are times when an email should be a meeting – a call or face-to-face meeting to avoid any miscommunication.   Have you ever been on an email thread that escalated into a comedy of miscommunication, increasing everyone’s email load and wasting time overwhelming everyone?

What are your best tips for healthy and productive meetings that don’t waste people’s time?




6 Responses

  1. “Sitting is the new smoking.” Now I know! Thanks for including Nonprofit Radio, Beth.

  2. Beth Kanter says:

    And as you’ll note, healthy culture is more than fitness and healthy foods – it is also a way of working

  3. […] so we’re not wasting time and taking into account everyone’s individual productivity cycles. (Beth’s Blog) Like this:Like […]

  4. […] of unnecessary meetings? You should pass this along to your boss – Healthy Nonprofit Work Culture: Shouldn’t That 2 Hour Conference Call Have Been An Email? (You may want to send it anonymously, of […]

  5. Audrey says:

    I am a big fan of more efficient and effective meetings. I like to be social and see everyone in the office, BUT I do have work to do. I feel like meetings are really about getting everyone together to determine to have a real meeting. Meetings to make more meeting might be the death of me!

  6. Beth says:


    I hear ya! I think one best practice is to ask, “Do we need a meeting for this? and don’t meet unless there is a compelling purpose.