I had breakfast today with a senior executive who estimates she spends more than 30% of her time in internal meetings.
My guess is that many marketers (who seem to go to more meetings than most people) might envy a number that low.
Despite the time spent, most people don't seem particularly happy with the results the meetings create. In that spirit, I want to share some radical thoughts on how you could completely change the meeting dynamic in your organization.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF MEETINGS. It's a huge mistake to just show up in a conference room and have a meeting. If the expectation is 'yet another meeting', then the odds are, you'll have yet another meeting.
Here are a few very distinct types of meetings:
- Just so everyone knows: This is a meeting in which one person or small group tells other people what's already been decided and is about to happen. These meetings should always have a written piece to go with them, and in many cases, it should be distributed a day before the meeting. The meeting should be very short, take place in an auditorium type setting, not a circle, and have focused Q&A at the end. Even a quiz. It's the football huddle, and the running back isn't supposed to challenge the very premises the quarterback is using to call the play.
- What are you up to: This is a meeting in which every participant needs to present the state of their situation. It probably happens on a regular basis and each person should have a strict time limit. Like two minutes (with an egg timer). After presenting the situation, each attendee can send their summary in an email to one person, who can sum it up and send it out to everyone.
- What does everyone think? In third place, a meeting where anyone can speak up. People who don't speak up on a regular basis should not be invited back. It's obvious they are good at some other function in the office, so you're wasting their time if they sit there.
- We need a decision right now. These are ad hoc meetings that have a specific agenda and should end with a decision. A final decision that doesn't get reviewed.
- Hanging out meetings. These are meetings with no real agenda, lots of side conversations, bored people, people instant messaging and just sort of hanging out. Sometimes these are fun, but I wouldn't know, because I haven't been to one in three years.
- To hear myself talk meetings. You get the idea.
There are more, of course, and your situation is special, but in general, you ought to be able to clearly delineate what an ideal meeting is like, and then make it happen.
TIPS: I think most of the time, most meetings should be held without chairs. People standing up think more quickly and get distracted less often. And the meetings don't last as long.
All day meetings should be banned. Meetings that attempt to accomplish more than one of the tasks above should be banned.
Bonus tip: Last person to walk in the door pays $10 to the coffee fund.
Extra bonus tip: hire someone to come in and videotape a few of your standard meetings. Watch what happens.
Last tip: if there's someone senior in the group who comes to meetings, spouts off and then either changes his mind or doesn't take action, start asking people to sign in to meetings (with a pen) and then, when the meeting is over, sign out (with a pen) on a document that you create in the meeting that says what you did and what's going to happen next.
If it's not worth doing this stuff, then I guess it's worth wasting 30% of your day.