We all been stuck there, trapped in the meeting that will never end. You don’t really have a part to play in it, you’re really just watching two people talk back and forth about something completely unrelated to you. You don’t enjoy having to sit through one of these so why would you want to make someone else experience this horror? Why does this happen and what can we do to eliminate this level of waste?
Can this meeting be an email?
When scheduling a meeting the first thing you need to ask yourself is “What’s the goal of this meeting?” Is it to announce a new policy, to share a piece of information, or are you trying to foster communications between a group of people?
If you can categorize this as a one-to-many information stream then chances are you don’t even need to have a meeting to accomplish that goal. It would be much more effective to send out an email with the message you are trying to convey or perhaps even schedule one on one conversations rather than wasting the time of all involved.
Do I need to be here?
Once you’re satisfied that your issue is important enough to call a meeting, take a look at your list of invitees and make sure they are all necessary in order to achieve your goal. Do you habitually invite your boss because that’s the way it’s always been done? Does that intern have anything to do with budgetary decision making? Also make sure that people feel safe to decline your invitation, there may be a good reason for it.
An excellent guideline is the two pizza rule. You need to rethink your invite list if you can’t comfortably feed everyone at the table with two pizzas. The number is intentionally vague because some discussions do require more heads than others. As a rule of thumb the ideal number is somewhere between five and eight.
When more than eight people get together for a meeting there will be a lot of shared opinions and no extra idea generation. Strong personalities and voices will overpower the weaker ones. Two heads are certainly better than one, but after that point the returns start diminishing.
How to do meetings right
Step one, have an agenda set which everyone has reached a consensus on. Make it visible to the whole team during the meeting. No topic outside of this agenda should be discussed in any detail. If something important does come up, table it for another day. The reason behind this is that the current people in the room may not be the appropriate group, there could be some missing, or some not required.
Step two, start on time. If you schedule a meeting for 10AM then the meeting starts at 10AM. This sets an expectation on everyone on the invite list to arrive early and not saunter in after grabbing a coffee or taking a break. After missing the start of one or two meetings people will start getting the message.
Step three, finish on time. It’s just as important to set a limit on how much time will be used up by a meeting. You schedule your day based on the promise that a meeting will only be an hour long, if that meeting runs long then other meetings or tasks might have to be pushed back as a result.
The other important reason to time box meetings is to force a result. Some topics can be argued in circles, rehashing the same topics again and again is counter productive.
Time boxes are not about time but about forcing hard decisions
Finally, no side conversations. It’s a sure sign that your meeting has gone off the rails if more than one discussion if going on. Establish a ground rule early on as part of your meeting agenda that no side conversations should take place. Either it’s important enough to add to the agenda, or even a separate meeting. Or it’s idle chit chat that signals the violators aren’t paying attention.