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You might think that the explosion of digital tools for project collaboration would have a diminishing effect on the need for in-person meetings. But you would be wrong.
If anything, digital tools simply make it easier to schedule more meetings. Leaders are often overwhelmed with meetings and calls, easily consuming 40% or more of their time at work. In my research, a typical manager burns 16 hours a week attending meetings (and dealing with related emails) that are entirely unnecessary.
For many of my clients, these numbers are even higher. A partner at a consulting firm recently told me that an audit of his calendar revealed that 80-90% of his weekdays between 8am-5pm are booked by meetings.
There’s many possible reasons why meetings are so rampant, but one particularly insidious cause is that calling a meeting allows us to avoid decision making. We’re constantly overwhelmed with access to information as we try to make decisions, and rather than take sole responsibility for an approach that might not work, it’s often easier to simply call another meeting.
This is not to say that meetings are inherently bad. In many ways, from an attention perspective, meetings are a good thing. Meetings require us to engage in joint attention, which makes them better than digital tools for synchronizing approaches to a complex mission. Meetings give us access to human empathy in ways that digital tools do not, and so are generally better for sensitive conversations.
But the benefits of a meeting are only fully realized when the meeting is run particularly well. Here is a concise set of recommendations for unlocking the true power of meetings.
Protect the buffer zone.
1. Take time to prepare. Good communication practices are table stakes for a good meeting. And good communication always starts with intentional preparation. If it’s an important meeting, don’t wing it. If it’s not important … don’t have it.
2. Leave time to process. A good meeting has meaningful outcomes, and you’ll need time to process those (updating to-do lists and assignments, for instance). No one will give this to you, you must schedule it (and defend it) rigorously.
Set the stage.
3. Prepare a clear agenda. This one shouldn’t need explanation, but it’s incredible how many meetings are run ad-hoc. Set this rule: no agenda, no attenda! And be wary of meetings in the calendar set to auto-repeat. These often live on well past their expiration date. Is there a better way to communicate the information you need to cover?
4. Define the players. The more people in a meeting, the less focused the meeting will be, and the less productive. Yes, sometimes we need an all-hands meeting—the key is to zealously limit the scope of the agenda to only the items everyone actually needs to hear.
5. Clear the clutter. Begin smaller meetings with space for participants to quickly share what’s on their mind. It might seem counter-intuitive to open with a free-for-all, but the result is more focused mental energy for your actual agenda.
Create discipline with constraints.
6. Be strict with time limits. Meetings fill time allotted like gas fills a container. We don’t cover twice as much ground in a 50-minute meeting versus a 25-minute one—we simply cover the same ground, more slowly.
7. Push meetings to the afternoon. In general, individual focus wanes after lunch. So we can leverage the power of group focus in the afternoon, and better protect our attention earlier in the day.
8. Set rules for tech. It’s likely unrealistic to ban all technology from the meeting room, but you can still set creative parameters to limit its effect. For instance, can one person type notes for the group? It’s best to communicate about this in advance, or you’ll face a revolt.
The point isn’t to police people’s phone use. Just the opposite, it’s to free them from all the obligations that constant connectivity demands. A clear expression of guidelines, ideally developed in collaboration, goes a long way.
Meet about your meetings.
That last point (number eight) brings up a core issue: we need to do a better job communicating about how we communicate. Maybe it sounds absurd to tackle the growing scourge of meetings with yet another meeting.
But the truth is, with a proper agenda, the right participants, a strict time limit, and specific boundaries, that one extra meeting can create a reproducible framework that can save your team—and your leadership—an immense amount of time. And maybe in the process, we can learn to unlock the true power of humans meeting together with a common purpose.
December 13, 2018 at 07:01PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs