Meetings—You’re Doing Them Wrong

Meetings are the bane of my existence.

It’s not that I’m not diametrically opposed to meetings.

Under the right circumstances and executed under the proper guidelines, meetings can be a great expenditure of time…

…The problem is, most meetings—I’m willing to say 95% them—are not held under the right circumstances nor are executed under the proper guidelines.

The average meeting is horrifically inefficient. It involves too many people, too many touchpoints, too many questions, and—most importantly—too much time.

No meeting, no matter the significance, should take longer than 30 minutes. I don’t care if it’s about your business, your mortgage, or your child’s education—the meeting itself should be less than a half an hour.

Meetings are not about discussing all the avenues available, they’re about coming together to make decisions. They’re about choosing which road to take, not highlighting all the roads on the map.

Invited parties should be properly briefed before the meeting begins (if you’re hearing about something for the first time in the meeting itself, somebody screwed up) in order to ensure only pertinent matters are discussed.

When everyone has done their homework, I find most meetings can actually be concluded in less than 15 minutes.

Now, there is ONE important exception to my aforementioned stance on meetings and that is in the case of a brainstorming session—which is, quite frankly, an entirely different animal all together. If you’re gathering to hash out new ideas, speculate on future plans, or activate the creative faculties of the collective mind, then go nuts, use as much time as you’d like. Take all day and all night—a good brainstorming session can go for hours and hours.

Just remember that most meetings are not scheduled to brainstorm, they’re scheduled to make decisions.

If you’ve been struggling to adhere to tight timelines as of late, here are my five suggestions to make sure your next meeting is short and sweet…

Try going for a walk

Take your meetings and make them mobile. When one of your employees or co-workers wants to chat (be it in-person or over the phone) go for a stroll. Have a predetermined route that takes no more than 30 minutes roundtrip and confine your conversation to the duration of the journey.

Use the timer on your smartphone

Using the timer/alarm on your smartphone is a blunt, effective means of keeping conversations focused and on-point. Clearly state, before the start of the meeting, that when the clock strikes zero you’re gone. For even greater impact, employ something more rudimentary like a kitchen timer, or hourglass—the incessant tick-tick-tick of the timer or the passing sand within the hourglass will amplify the sense of urgency in the room and minimize the trivial chit-chat.

Only meet with people on THEIR time

Though not always the most practical solution, meeting with people on their time is an incredibly powerful way to keep things as short as possible. By offering to meet with people during their lunch, after 5PM, on the weekend, etc. (those traditional timeslots when no one wants to work), you’ll avoid skip the superfluous and deal strictly in brass tacks.

Keep the invitations to an absolute minimum

Not everyone needs a say—it’s callous but true. In this overly sensitized world, the workplace has too often become an environment of “we need to get everyone’s opinion on this.” The truth is, no you don’t. Having too many cooks in the kitchen will be detrimental to the environment, efficiency, and effectiveness of your meeting. Keep the guest list as small as possible—two people is the dream.

Ask yourself why?

The easiest way to keep a meeting concise is to not have it in the first place. Most meetings aren’t actually needed, but ordered and held from a force of habit.   Before sending out a batch of invitations or blocking-off chunks of calendar time, ask yourself why do I/we need this meeting? Try and find another way to reach the objective you seek without involving other people.

 

Are meetings totally dispensable?—no.

As much as I’d like to do away with them entirely, there is always going to be a time and a place…but that time and place is far less frequent than we generally suspect.

So before scheduling your next meeting, make sure it’s:

  1. Absolutely necessary
  2. Taking up no more than 30 minutes of your day

--Ari