Shorter is better than longer.
Don’t believe me? Ask your coworkers. When it comes to meetings, they’ll agree with this principle.
As a meeting leader your challenge is to figure out how to make sure your meetings don’t last a minute more than necessary. To meet this goal you need to ask and answer the following question.
What work can be pulled out of the
meeting and done before or after?
When planning a meeting, inexperienced leaders first decide to call a meeting, and then they build their agenda based on a list of everything they or others think should get done.
It’s not that the list isn’t important. It may well be. They just didn’t ask the key question and because they didn’t, their meeting will likely be longer than necessary.
A Better Approach
Meeting heroes, or let’s just say YOU, take another approach. You start by identifying the need. Then you ask yourself if a meeting is required to fulfill the need. If it is, you figure out what needs to happen, and then you ask the key question. This removes meeting tasks that can be accomplished in another way.
I want you to do this because meeting time is expensive. If I’ve got eight people sitting around the table with their meters running, I want to make sure all eight people are needed for all the activity that happens. Anyone present who isn’t either learning or contributing to part of the meeting represents wasted time.
Of course, you’ll never get the perfect match between who’s in the room and the tasks that are happening, but you can still make that your aspiration.
Remove the Background Presentation
Let’s do a simple example. In order to have an effective discussion, you need everyone to understand the background for the problem you are going to discuss. The question is whether you should do this during the meeting or in some other way.
If a quick 1-2 minute presentation would give everyone the necessary background, have your most succinct and clear communicator share that information during the meeting.
If it’s going to take a while and involve reports and slides, send it in advance and tell people to come prepared by reading the material. This is especially helpful when a number of people already know the background. They won’t have to sit through an info dump for what they already know.
And yes, I know some people won’t do the pre-work. And for them, I say too bad. Those who come prepared are more likely to create a meeting outcome they like. Those who wing it, tend to walk away unsatisfied. I’m okay letting that happen.
Remove the Status Updates
Here’s another example that might grab your attention. Staff meetings are famous for the trip around the table, hearing an update from each person.
It’s time consuming, boring, and usually adds little value.
But, the leader argues, team members need to be aware of what everyone’s working on. That may be, but does it need to happen during a meeting? Perhaps a task tracking app like Asana would do the trick. A chat app such as Slack might also meet the need.
Worried there wouldn’t be a reason to meet any more? Then don’t meet. Eliminating unnecessary meetings is the biggest time saver of them all.
Another option would be to use the meeting time for what is best served by a team-wide discussion. Instead of hearing updates from everyone in a meeting, spend the time on a couple team members that have a problem for which they need advice from other team members. An in-depth, problem-solving dive for 1-2 people is a much better use of time than a shallow who’s doing what discussion that doesn’t lead to any action.
Remove the Feedback
Here’s a third situation to consider. Suppose your meeting was about developing some options and then getting feedback on those options so that you can make a decision. If the options are formed, and the group isn’t going to make the decision, but you are, then you don’t need everyone in the room to hear each other’s advice.
Grab the feedback after the meeting in whatever manner works best for you. If you just want to give people the opportunity to comment, but are okay if they don’t, tell them to come see you or shoot you an email with their feedback.
If you want to use a more rigorous feedback collection approach, use SurveyMonkey to send out a short survey with what you want to know. You could also start a discussion with Yammer, Jive, or your favorite enterprise social network app.
Cut to the Core
A meeting may well be necessary, but there’s a good chance everything you thought should be done in it doesn’t need to happen during the meeting.
It’s all about stripping away anything that’s not essential and using the group’s time for that which only the group working together can produce.