A new approach to efficient meetings:
Much of a business day is spent in meetings, so why is so little effort put in to designing a meeting? When a 10 people who make $50 an hour gather for one hour, that essentially costs $500. If each of those people drive $200 in revenue for the company by their job function, now that meeting just cost you $1000. To add insult to injury, think back to how many of the past meetings you would consider to be “excellent.” Unfortunately it’s all too rare and yet easy enough to change with a simple, but radical approach.
Many years ago I heard Cameron Herald (Author of Meetings Suck: Turning One of The Most Loathed Elements of Business into One of the Most Valuable) say that there’s really only one reason that so many meetings start late, and it’s because the prior meeting didn’t end early enough to allow for a transition. To expand on that a little further, it means there wasn’t enough margin prior to allow time to dial-in, squeeze in a restroom break, of frankly, simply show up. He presented a simple outline for a successful meeting that I’ve continued to adopt and refine for many years and it goes like this:
When setting up a meeting, decide in advance if the meeting is for:
- Information sharing
- Creative discussion / brainstorming
- Consensus decision
Every meeting can only be one of these and an appropriate time should be allotted. Setting the purpose in advance allows participants to prepare and be able to contribute to the meeting, as well as ensure that the meeting is “successful”.
Information sharing: many meetings are simply to convey critical/time-sensitive/inside information. In such a meeting, the host should be prepped to share that information as efficiently and effectively as possible and participants should be prepared to take notes and respect the host’s purpose. In such a meeting, there’s no need for rapist trail, brainstorming. If there are multiple people that need to share information (for example department heads reporting in) then time can be allocated as such.
Creative discussion / brainstorming: There are lot of times that a couple people need to simply brainstorm without the pressure of deciding something or one person ‘hogging’ the meeting with a data dump. Such a meeting should be scheduled during optimal times when creativity can be fostered, and likely the only one of the 3 meeting types that should ever be “off-site”.
Consensus Decision: If a leader has already made a decision, then an ‘information sharing’ meeting is likely appropriate, but there are times when 2 or more people need to come to a consensus decision. Designating a meeting as such ensures that all participants come prepared and have the agreed-upon goal of deciding something by the end of the time frame. Ideally, a host should send out the decision options ahead as well as background meeting.
Following this purpose structure will greatly enhance the efficiency of most organizations. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been in when a decision needed to be made and a lot of time was spend conveying information that should have been sent prior, or it turned in to a brainstorm of options available with no actual decision made by the end of the meeting.
Building in margin: all meetings should be set with a margin of time, for example a hour meeting should be set for 50 minutes. This allows everyone to have a few minutes to transition to their next activity and if all meetings adhere to this, then over time, most meetings will start on time.
Productivity tip: if you use GMail for your corporate email, there is a setting in “Calendar” that will auto-set all 1 hour meetings to 50 minutes and 30 minute meetings to 25, etc. Other email platforms have similar settings as well.
Running a meeting effectively:
Always create, and disseminate, an agenda. Some companies go so far as to encourage employees to ‘decline’ meetings if the calendar invite appears with no agenda. Truth-be-told, a meeting with no agenda shouldn’t happen.
Set roles for each meeting: the Chair, a time keeper, participants, and a closer.
The Chair: sets the meeting purpose and defines the agenda, and ensures that the entire agenda is reasonable and appropriate at the start, and that it is covered in it’s entirety.
The Time Keeper: is designated to ensure that the meeting progresses, and wraps up in time. This person also obtains a free pass to help encourage the conversation to be even (i.e. prevent one person from monopolizing the whole time).
The participants: should come ready to contribute, not be distracted (phones away, laptops off or disconnected from WiFi) and help. They should also setup a “parking lot” for off-topic ideas that come up, and take notes on the meeting:
The closer: finalizes the meeting with a “Who does what by when” finale
It’s said that “vision without execution is hallucination” and having a clear purpose for a meeting with a defined outcome is one of the best ways to do so. Building in 5-10 minutes of margin for every in-person meeting or phone call will ensure that meetings start and end on-time.
For more information on Cameron’s approach, here is his book: Meetings Suck: Turning One of The Most Loathed Elements of Business into One of the Most Valuable
– Brian Sallee on scaling startups & maximizing productivity