February 21, 2015 Zack Sionakides no responses

Have Faster Meetings

Meetings are a great way to collaborate between team members, baseline and re-baseline work tasks and products, and a way for everyone on a team to socialize and network in a formal setting. Meetings can also be a major drag on productivity, costly to an organization, and demoralize personnel if they are without purpose and unproductive. From an organizational capability perspective, efficiency and efficacy are two primary goals for all meetings. Well-run organizations want to get the most of out of meetings while keeping down the disruption costs of having personnel participate in meetings. Let’s look at ten simple ways to make meetings run faster and be more efficient:

1. Start the meeting on time even if attendees arrive late. Spending ten minutes waiting for everyone to show up or dial in, or looking around the building for attendees is a poor use of everyone’s time, and costs real money in lost productivity. Things happen that cause attendees to be late – stuck in another meeting, on a call, problems dialing in or logging in, etc. Plan for these unknowns as you would any other risk in your operations.

Instead of starting late, shift the late attendees contribution time to later in the meeting, and if necessary backfill them after the meeting of what was discussed. Starting meetings late sends the wrong message to on-time attendees. It wastes their time, is disrespectful, and discourages desired behavior in the organization.

2. Have attendees go in the same order for re-occurring meetings (e.g. weekly reporting meeting, daily stand-up, etc.). This speeds up the meeting since everyone knows when they are on-deck, allowing a rapid-fire approach to the meeting. It also allows attendees the opportunity to multi-task a little when someone’s speaking that has little relevancy to their own work.

3. Have the meeting facilitator (or a designee) take notes on the meeting and distribute the notes to the attendees after with any action items included. This reduces note-taking requirements on attendees and speeds up the meeting. It’s also a good practice from a quality stand point to avoid repetitive follow-up discussions and ensures everyone is on the same page.

4. Never use a PowerPoint slide deck for a meeting. PowerPoint lengthens meetings to no end, since using a slide deck basically locks the group in to going through the whole thing; which typically takes a long time. Instead use a simple, rough agenda to guide the meeting. If you need to show charts, graphs, pictures, etc., bring those as separate handouts or in a folder and reference them as needed for attendees.

5. Schedule meetings to be on the shorter side of what they typically run, instead of just defaulting to 30 or 60 minutes. If you can get half the recurring meetings done in 20 minutes, then schedule it on the calendar for 20 minutes or even less. This will provide a psychological expectation for participants as to how long things should run. Targeting the 25th – 50th percentile in length is the sweet point of scheduling to keep things on track.

6. Have the meeting in uncomfortable spaces and environments, preferably of worse comfort than the individual’s typical workspaces. An uncomfortable space can be as simple as one participant’s office, as that space is typically understood to be a person’s space and not community space. Stand-up meetings help to speed up check-in type meetings, since standing for long periods is not typically a comfortable activity. For longer meetings or working groups, work in a cramped, uncomfortable space instead of that comfortable conference room with a view. This will focus the team on getting things done, instead of lounging around.

7. Sidebar topics that either have little relevancy to the discussion or need a deeper discussion amongst a subgroup of attendees. This is a responsibility of the meeting facilitator, however any participant should speak up if they feel the discussion is going off topic. Getting off track is a huge time waster and is detrimental to the primary purpose of the meeting at hand. However, make sure that sidebarred items either get addressed at the end of the meeting or are scheduled for another time to go in depth.

8. One on one discussions or debates that occur in a meeting should last no more than 30-60 seconds, and a couple minutes max. When a long discussion between two individuals occurs, not only does it lengthen the meeting, but every other participant starts tuning out. This is the meeting facilitator’s job to manage, and if necessary to sidebar a discussion for another time or ask that the discussion continue after everyone else has finished.

9. Work with “long talkers” about summarizing their presentations. Everyone has attended meetings with someone who talks for a very long time about their inputs, much of which is too detailed and not relevant to the conversation. Coaching “long talkers” should be done privately as a skill improvement in summarizing information and presenting.

10. Use technology that is appropriate for the type of meeting you’re having. Getting technology working for a meeting can be challenging enough, particularly if you are integrating a number of technologies. Add in remote users accessing the system, and it’s a recipe for spending 20-30 minutes getting everyone on if they aren’t familiar with or don’t have the proper software installed. Simpler is always better when it comes to communications technology, since not every participant is going to be technologically savvy.

If you need to use a more complex interface, particularly with users who may not be familiar with the system, get ready ahead of time. Make sure the meeting is working well before it starts, and any content sharing, audio, or video works. Encourage external participants to log in early since they may need to download and install software on their device to access the meeting.

Like any work activity, time is money, and meetings are no different. Efficient meetings cut organizational costs, provide more time for normal work activities, and show respect for those who work at the organization, and external clients as well. The benefits are about $20k/year if you can cut a single weekly meeting by an average of 15 minutes. Multiply that by the hundreds or thousands of meetings that go on weekly in a typical organization and the savings are in the millions of dollars; simply by establishing better meeting practices.

Originally published by Zack Sionakides on LinkedIn

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