How to run meetings effectively

I have been reading on how to run meetings effectively and be considerate of others time. Here is a compilation from what I learnt. Studies indicate that we spend anywhere from 35%–55% of our time, and sometimes much more, in meetings. Of the approximately 11 million meetings that take place every day in the US, a third are unproductive. It comes at a cost. An estimated $37 billion is lost every year to unproductive meetings, in the US alone. 

Successful executives like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs developed their own techniques to combat bad meetings and here’s how Steve Jobs did it:

  1. At Apple, any meeting should have a clear agenda. (Also, it is good to be clear of the venue and the time)
  2. He kept meetings as small as possible. To Steve Jobs, the core idea of an effective meeting is for it not to be crowded.
  3. He made sure someone was responsible for each item on the agenda. He called that person, Directly Responsible Individual or DRI. The DRI would own the task, facilitate discussion around the agenda item and often manage post-meeting actions about it. (Research shows that clearly and publicly attaching a name to a task fosters accountability. This, in turn, increases follow-through)
  4. Conclude agenda topics with actions or next steps. Each action item will have a DRI and the deadline or time to complete.

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson insists everyone stands in meetings. If you’re standing, you’re not going to chitchat for too long, and you’re not going to have long, drawn-out conversations. 

Agile teams have standup meetings, timeboxed between 5 to 15 mins, with participants standing up to remind people to keep the meeting short and to-the-point and usually take place at the same time and place every working day, with the simple 3 point agenda: 

  1. What I did yesterday?
  2. What will I do today?
  3. Am I facing any challenges in accomplishing my sprint goals?

Now, let’s see how to create the Perfect Meeting Agenda. Consider creating it as a set of questions to be addressed:

  • Instead of a topic titled “Budget Problems,” consider a question such as, “How will we reduce our spending by 100K by the end of the fiscal year”?
  • Instead of a topic titled, “Customer Process Improvement,” consider a question like, “What are the key ways of improving overall response time to customers by 25%?”
  • Instead of a topic titled “Leader Succession,” try changing it to “Where are we vulnerable from a leadership turnover perspective and how might we address these vulnerabilities?”
  • Instead of a topic titled “Continuing Our Strategic Planning,” try changing it to what exactly will be worked on in the meeting such as, “What is the key market threat we need to be aware of, how could it affect us, and what can we do about it?”
  • Instead of a topic titled, “Miscellaneous Updates,” try changing it to “What key pieces of information do each of you have to share or need from one another?”

A question-and-answer approach makes it easier to determine your invitation list, for one: it’s the people essential to answering the questions. This approach also better informs when to actually end a meeting — when the questions have been answered to satisfaction.

  • Design questions that are specific and challenging.
  • Collaborate to identify questions that truly matter.
  • Privilege the most important questions first.
  • Execute on the agenda.

And remember: if you can’t think of any questions to be answered in a meeting, that may be your sign that a meeting is simply not needed. Give back the gift of time to would-be attendees. They will thank you.

Let’s also see a few Meeting Mistakes:

  • You don’t have a strong agenda.
  • You invite too many people. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos follows the Two Pizza Rule: No meeting should have more people than can be fed with a pair of pepperoni pies. This not only allows for quicker decisions, it also lets teams test their ideas without the interference of groupthink
  • You don’t have a facilitator.
  • You don’t establish and follow ground rules.
  • Not starting a meeting on time. A whopping 37% of meetings start late, mostly because someone attending it was late
  • You listen to the loudmouth, rather than the expert.
  • You use your phone.
  • You drink too much coffee or eat during the meeting.
  • You indulge in small talk. (Leave the small talk for the water cooler.)

Term of the post: meetingitis –  An excessive tendency to hold unnecessary meetings.

To summarise: 

Effective Meeting = Agenda + Action Items + Responsible Individual + Timeline

References and Additional resources: