In Praise of Short Meetings

There were three messages: safety, inclusion, company performance. In that order. It was all over in about 15 minutes, and we were asked to chat to our colleagues and get to know someone new.

I wasn’t what I expected from a company meeting about annual results, and I wasn’t the only one, some colleagues who are also in their first year with the company were also surprised.

It was brilliant. It was effective. Everything about it spoke of the company’s priorities, and there was lunch.

When was the last time you joined a meeting that covered the promised agenda, inspired you, gave you lunch and finished on time?

Three things to think about when planning a meeting

What is the purpose of the meeting?

Meetings can have different purposes – informing colleagues, making decisions, problem solving, or consulting. Try to keep your meeting to just one purpose, it will make the next questions a lot easier.

Who needs to be in the room?

Steve Jobs famously asked people not specifically needed in a meeting to leave. That makes sense for consultative or decision-making meetings where increasing the number of attendees slows both processes down. However if your meeting is about informing people or problem solving the numbers matter less, and for informational meetings the audience will be somewhat self-selecting.

What is the minimum content?

A meeting is not the place to provide really in depth reporting, people can’t absorb and work with detailed data in a 30 minute time-slot through which everyone will be speaking. So go minimalist on what you present – and provide the resources/data/files later. If you’re using powerpoint create high impact slides and use appendices for the detail. The meeting I mentioned above did use powerpoint with key figures – 2 or 3 data points at most. We all walked out understanding the direction of the company and with the priorities clearly impressed on us.

And one last sneak question; do you really need a meeting? Many decisions can be made without putting an hour on everyone’s agenda. This is one area where time is money and it’s rarely factored into project costs, there are tools out there to help you measure the cost of time spent in meetings, and other tools to help you manage meetings better.

Go for a shorter meeting, your team will thank you for it.

Image: stopwatch via pixabay 

Meeting Tips: Let’s (Not) Meet

Too many meetings. I sometimes feel that I don’t get to do any real work done because I’m in meetings all day. My survival tips;

  1. block time in your agenda for the “real work”, not only are you planning the work, you’re blocking off time for anyone else to schedule a meeting (people will find other ways to get the info they need and solve their problems)
  2. schedule short meetings – if people think the meeting can last an hour it will
  3. keep meetings small, inevitably everyone will want to speak, so more people will inevitably take longer.
  4. have a purpose and an agenda
  5. start on time – with whoever is there on time
  6. announce the meeting’s purpose it at the beginning of the meeting, remind people of it
  7. stick to time
  8. ‘park’ items that don’t relate to the agenda – that’s not what you’re here for.
  9. write up the meeting – decisions taken and actions committed to, and send the notes out directly after the meeting

It’s not rocket science – I got most of these from Manager Tools – the world’s most useful site for new managers.


They also recommend working through ground rules at the beginning of meetings, I did this with my team – they generated a similar list (I said it wasn’t rocket science!). However there are a couple of interesting additions, coffee is a requirement and our team meetings should be held outside the office occasionally. It works well – and the meetings are usually half an hour.

This week Seth Godin weighed in with his meeting rules, lots of the same concepts, but a  couple of things struck me.

He also questions why meetings are always set at a default one hour length – and suggests scheduling meetings in increments of five minutes. I like this, high potential for confusion if you’ve used default one hour meetings for a long time.

He suggests removing the chairs, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this, I can’t find a reference now but I think Queen Elizabeth II keeps her advisors standing (the origin of a “standing committee” perhaps).

I like his last suggestion; “If you’re not adding value to a meeting, leave.” I’ve been tempted many times, next time I’ve got a meeting scheduled where my value may be limited I’ll make sure I’m sitting next to the door.

image meeting