Three Solutions To Three Age Old Meeting Problems

longitudinal study published by Harvard Business Review found that CEOs spend 72% of their time in meetings. While top executives’ calendars may be an extreme version of the problem, most leaders are overwhelmed. They perpetually find themselves in too many meetings resulting in minimal time for planning, strategizing, or high quality problem-solving conversations.

Sadly, one-size-fits-all solutions frequently fail. The trick is to use the right solution for the right problem. Here are the three of the most common issues we see and the single best work practice that can fix each one:

1. Back-to-back-to-back-to-back…

The problem: The curse of being a global leader is that you can find yourself on calls from 7am to 7pm without even a bio break. One client told us about the “triple mute move” – the technique of muting your computer, phone and headset in order to safely use the bathroom during a conference call.

It would be nice, but often unrealistic, to have fewer meetings. Your global workforce needs your decisions, input and coaching. Without you, progress could come to a standstill.

Your best move: Go short. Turn every 60-minute call into a 45 minute one. Give yourself 15 minutes every hour to answer email, make a call, go to the restroom in peace or eat an apple. The client with the triple mute move reported that “45-minute meetings literally changed my life.” 

Tips for making this strategy successful:

  • Require that every meeting invite has a purpose, rather than a topic. This keeps everyone focused on producing a concrete outcome. A purpose starts with a verb, indicates what will be different as a result of the meeting, and defines when you’re done
  • At the top of the call remind everyone that your time is limited: “Given that this is a 45 minute call, please stay focused and present so that we can have 15 minutes to transition to our next meeting”

2. Endless updates

The problem: When you’re a leader, people naturally want to get on your calendar to provide visibility into the great work that they and their teams are doing. That means lots of meetings titled “status” “update” “share” and “information” – they are easy to say yes to as one-offs, but in aggregate, they are a colossal waste of organizational time and energy.

Your best move: Change the channel. Ask that progress reports and status updates be communicated via a succinct summary in an email, Slack channel, or a project dashboard using tools such as SmartSheet.

Tips for making this strategy successful:

  • Remind your team that time is money—and meetings are an expensive way to share information. Our meeting cost calculator can help you quantify the cost
  • Schedule time on your calendar to thoughtfully process the information you receive electronically. If you don’t read and comment on the content that people post, those update meetings will quickly make their way back on to your calendar. As an added bonus, you’ll also be sending a signal that you value thinking and work time – and that others should too

3. Tourist trap

The problem: Do you often look around the room and think “Why are all these people here?” Do you have meetings where several people remain silent the entire time? Do you see multiple layers of a management chain in the same meeting? If so, you may be stuck in a tourist trap—too many people in too many meetings simply to stay in the loop. They’re not IN the meeting so much as VISITING.

This may seem expedient in the short term, but the long-term effects are dire. It saps the time and energy of the tourists and dampens the quality and directness of the dialogue between the people who really need to be there, resulting in a smaller “follow up” that ends up being the real meeting.

Your best move: Send them packing (nicely, of course). Establish a general principle that all meetings must have a clear purpose and that all attendees must have a specific role to play in achieving that purpose. Those roles include: Subject matter experts who have unique and relevant experience or knowledge; individual(s) who need to approve or decide on the outcomes of the meeting; individual(s) accountable for driving execution; or people who have a different approach and will bring a fresh perspective.

Tips for making this strategy successful:

  • Create a practice of posting recaps after key meetings. For the meetings you attend or lead, ask that someone capture the essential outcomes: what was learned, what was decided, and who is going to do what—and share that recap with attendees as well as those who need to know what happened.
  • Signal the importance of collective time, over individual time. If a meeting owner spends 15 minutes writing a recap that 3 other people spend 5 minutes reading, rather than attending a 60-minute meeting, you’ve reinvested 150 organizational minutes to higher value activities

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. If low value meetings have taken control of your calendar, fight back with work practices and reinforcing signals tailored to your situation. You don’t have time not to.

 
  • Stop Meeting Like This

    47% of meeting time is seen as unproductive

  • Driven to Distraction

    Office workers check their inbox 30 times per hour

  • There, but not really‚Ķ

    Worldwide, only 13% of employees are engaged at work