Don’t let your meetings suck

Most people hate meetings. And with many executives spending up to 18 hours a week stuck in a room in unproductive meetings, it’s not hard to see why.

So why is this the case?

At fault for the pointless meeting is that the great majority of meetings are created by default and with little thought other than “we ought to have a meeting”. So many decisions in most meetings are arbitrary including the  30 or 60 minute time slots, chosen because we don’t change the suggested time blocks in Microsoft or Google calendars rather than because that is how long it needs.

It’s sad really, because with preparation and forethought – magical things can happen in a short time when people get together. Collaboration can be a powerful thing. Just take the example of the “2-hour house”, a project by a Texan builder who saw a team work together to build an entire 210 square metre house in just two hours and 53 minutes. Just think back to your last two-hour meeting, what did you accomplish? Exactly.

Imagine a world where every meeting was efficient, effective and worthwhile – imagine if every interaction actually helped. It may seem like a far off dream, but in fact it is very possible. We’re not suggesting you build a house, but you can at the very least do something to craft better and more productive meetings.

Here are our six steps to designing magical meetings:

  1. Before you even call a meeting, be clear on the basics. Why are you calling this meeting, and why now? Decide on the desired outcome of the meeting – what does good look like, what will people walk away with? These points will determine the entire shape of the meeting.
  1. Create the agenda, and not just by dashing off a series of bullet points. Think about the sequence of the conversation that you need to have, what do people need to know, what do they need to explore and what is the decision they need to take?
  1. Think about the physical space and how you will run each element of the meeting. This will influence both the set-up and the kit needed in the room – from pens and paper to whiteboards and projectors. Effectively, this is designing each item on the agenda and how it will play out.
  1. Once you are clear on all these elements, think again about who needs to be in the room – in many ways, people are the last thing we think about, but they will have the strongest influence on the outcomes of the meeting.
  1. Clarify a simple common language for everyone. We all come to meetings with a different context, attitude, and history of involvement with the topic at hand. If attendees arrive with different levels of knowledge, consider building in sufficient time to foster a common understanding amongst the participants. This can be as simple as clarifying jargon or what you mean by key words.
  1. Think about how you record the meeting. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is famous for not writing anything down in meetings, believing that useful information will be retained. But most people don’t work like that. It can be very powerful to have a shared, graphical record that meeting participants can engage with. it can be as easy as having someone write down points on a whiteboard wall – or as complex as having a professional scribe illustrate the conversations in real time.

If you want to turn those 18 hours a week into time well spent, creating meetings by design and not by default is a great start. It will also increase alignment amongst your team, improve productivity and greatly help decision making in your organisation.



One thought on “Don’t let your meetings suck

  1. The chairperson needs to lead the meeting. I can never understand why a chairperson actually says ‘we will wait a few minutes for latecomers’, thus inconveniencing attendees who showed the courtesy to turn up on time. And then it gets even more annoying when late, latecomers finally arrive and the chairperson re-caps discussions that have transpired, thus inconveniencing punctual attendees again. Improved meeting etiquette would reduce time wasting. My message to latecomers – ‘if you snooze you lose’!

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