Tips For Better Meetings

I used to attend a little country church, and eventually I was asked to serve on the volunteer board.  Our first meeting began at 7:00 pm and wound up at 1:30 am.  We had a tiny church.  Nothing big was being decided that night.  Nothing much actually was decided.  There was a lot of meandering discussion though.

By 9:30 my leg was bouncing uncontrollably under the table.  By 10:15 I was considering excusing myself to use the washroom and instead escaping into the night and knocking on random neighborhood doors begging for asylum; at midnight I considered taking my own life.

I eventually was asked to chair that board, and I did so on the condition that we would be done by 9:00.  And we always were.  And we got lots done.  Work expands to fill the time available for its completion (Parkinson’s law)

Some meeting facts

  • 71% of senior managers view most meetings as unproductive
  • There are an estimated 55 million meetings/day in North America
  • Senior leaders spend 50-90% of their time in meetings
  • ‘Too many meetings’ is consistently listed as the top time waster at work*

So, here are some meeting tips that I’ve learned along the way.  Take the best, leave the rest:

  1. Set a timer: See Parkinson’s law. If you currently allot an hour for your production meeting, why not try 49 minutes and see what happens?  Will civilization as we know it end?  When the timer goes off, stand up and walk away.
  2. Only discuss things that can’t be figured out online: Face-to-face time is precious.  Don’t waste it.
  3. Try a standing meeting: As soon as you sit down, everything will take 40% longer.
  4. Build trust every time: You can’t do this via email.  Begin with a simple question like “Give one high and one low from this week.”  Trust building is critical, and will pay dividends everywhere else in the firm
  5. Ask ‘What questions need to be answered?’: This helps determine who should and shouldn’t be at the meeting.
  6. Allow people to opt in (or out): If they don’t need to be there, let them escape!
  7. Cut meetings into two parts: One part where a larger group needs to attend, and another with a smaller focused group.  Just don’t waste the precious time of people who don’t need to be sitting there.
  8. Stir up controversy: Make it ok to disagree.  Make it mandatory to disagree.  Reward those who speak up with a contrary opinion.  Others are already thinking it.  Meetings suffer much more from artificial harmony than from too much conflict.  As soon as conflict erupts, the meeting gets interesting.

Try one of these ideas to make your meetings less horrible.  Good luck!

*The Surprising Science of Meetings, 2019, Steven Rogelberg

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