Five recommendations to plan and execute better meetings.
In 2015, a Clarizen poll published noteworthy information about a type of meeting that many of us attend every day — status meetings. “Status meetings undermine worker productivity with lengthy preparation requirements and distracted, multi-tasking participants. Three in five employed adults reported that preparing for a status meeting ‘takes longer than the meeting itself,’ while more than one-third of those who attend status meetings called them a waste of their time.”
While these stats specifically reference stand-up or status meetings, the sentiments and attitudes extend to many meetings. I think we can all agree that a good chunk of the meetings on our calendar are time-wasters and highly frustrating.
People want to more effective meetings
However, it feels like there is a sea change happening in corporate culture today; teams are starting to focus more on how to approach meetings in a new way to save time, provide more time for heads-down work, and improve morale.
Atlassian even published a guide on how to run productive meetings, where they start by defining the difference between effective and efficient meetings: “An effective meeting brings a thoughtfully selected group of people together for a specific purpose, provides a forum for open discussion, and delivers a tangible result: a decision, a plan, a list of great ideas to pursue, a shared understanding of the work ahead. Not only that, but the result is then shared with others whose work may be affected.”
If you’ve noticed that your team or organization has fallen into bad meeting habits, here are tips for more effective meetings.
1. Run It a Different Way
The first thing you should ask if you wish to plan more effective meetings: what meetings are on my calendar, and are they essential? Look at the standing, recurring meetings on your schedule and see if they are serving their purpose. Are they useful? Are they giving you the outcomes you need?
Start trimming down the number of meetings on your calendar. Second, be more thoughtful about the meetings you schedule moving forward. Before you hit send on that meeting invite, ask yourself: Is there is another way to approach this? Can the “work” be accomplished in an email or by stopping by someone’s desk? Can the meeting even take place over Slack?
There is a trend, especially in design and development, toward digital stand-ups. While daily, in-person stand-ups are the norm in some workplaces, they can be tricky and time-consuming when done every day; if you’re juggling remote teams in different time zones, it becomes even harder to find a time when everyone can jump on a video call.
Entrepreneur Jurgen Appelo talks about digital standups as a solution to in-person or conference call standups: “Quite often, remote teams consider daily stand-ups a waste of their time. Peer-to-peer status updates are interesting and relevant, but people on distributed teams have recognized that asynchronous messages can work as a fine replacement. Slack bots and other specialized tools ask team members to inform their peers about their work-in-progress, at a time that makes sense in their own time zones, and this seems to work just as well and costs people much less time.”
2. Hone in on the Purpose
Last year at Control the Room, a summit we host for facilitators, the master facilitator Priya Parker spoke on the “Art of Gathering.” She has so many excellent ideas, tips, and suggestions for how to run better gatherings of any kind, from birthday parties to weddings to executive events.
One of the many things I love about what she says in her book is how, before you plan anything, you have to dig deep to identify the real purpose of your meeting: “The purpose of your gathering is more than an inspiring concept. It is a tool, a filter that helps you determine all the details, grand and trivial.”
Priya feels that when you have a good purpose for your gathering, it helps you make better decisions. Your purpose is your “bouncer.” It lets you know what is right and wrong for your particular event.
Next time you are planning a meeting, take more time to think about the purpose of your gathering and use that clear purpose to set your agenda, plan your activities, and outline your attendees.
3. Respect Everyone’s Time
Here’s a small but essential point for better meetings. Make sure you practice good meeting hygiene by starting and ending on time. If you wait until everyone arrives and accommodate latecomers, suddenly you’ll find that every meeting starts 15 minutes late; people will be antsy, bored, and your meeting will begin on the wrong foot.
A New York Times article on running effective meetings shared how one executive took this start-on-time rule to heart: “Terry Lundgren, the chairman of Macy’s, has never hesitated to enforce a strict policy of on-time meetings. ‘If the meeting is at 8, you’re not here at 8:01, you’re here at 8, because the meeting’s going to start at 8,’ he said. ‘Busy people that can’t get off the last phone call to get there, [need to] discipline themselves to be there on time.’”
4. Bring a Prototype
When you’ve decided to hold a meeting, you need to outline your activities. Everyone probably agrees that having a robust agenda is better than not having a plan. But what else? If you want to jump-start your meeting and make it more engaging and useful, start bringing a prototype to your session.
This idea has been promoted in many places, most prominently by Tom and David Kelley of IDEO. In their Slate article “Why Designers Should Never Go to a Meeting Without a Prototype,” they said: “What’s the best way to make progress toward your goal? In our experience, it’s to build a prototype, an early working model that has become a key tool of design thinkers. If you show up at a meeting with an interesting prototype while others bring only a laptop or a yellow pad, don’t be surprised if the whole meeting is centered on your ideas.”
“The reason for prototyping is experimentation — the act of creating forces you to ask questions and make choices. It also gives you something you can show to and talk about with other people.” — Tom and David Kelley
While the idea of a prototype at every meeting can be daunting, the Kelley brothers shared their broad definition of the term: “We often build physical prototypes. But a prototype is just an embodiment of your idea. It could be an array of Post-its to simulate a software interface. It could be a skit in which you act out a service experience, such as visiting the emergency room at a hospital. Or it could be a quick version of an advertisement describing a product or service or feature that doesn’t yet exist.”
Voltage Control president Douglas Ferguson also talks about the power of prototyping in the article: “Don’t count clicks. Listen.”
5. Hold a Longer Meeting
While we’re all trying to cut down on our daily meetings, there may be moments when more in-depth conversations are needed, and longer meetings are necessary. In the Harvard Business Review article “A Step-by-Step Guide to Structuring Better Meetings” author Liane Davey talks about the power of what she calls strategic directions meetings: “Between two and six times per year, your leadership team needs to lift your eyes to the horizon and re-evaluate your strategy. This should be a lengthy meeting that provides ample time to meander. In my experience, one strategic directions day per quarter works well. I often pair this day with one on team effectiveness, which makes a productive two-day offsite.”
So, while you’re taking the time to focus your day-to-day meetings (and getting rid of as many as you can!), don’t forget to schedule extra time for the big meetings that need to happen. These moments for extended time together give teams the focused space to define critical strategic visions for the future.
Still need help building a better meeting? Bring in a professional facilitator from Voltage Control.
Voltage Control designs and facilitates innovation training, Design Sprints, and design thinking workshops. Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk.