Wednesday, 27 August 2014

How to manage effective meetings?

I was recently listening to an interview with Jason Fried, founder of 37 signals and co-author of the book Rework, and it really got me thinking about meetings.  He pointed out that everyone hates meetings, from the lowest workers right up to the top managers, and yet we keep having them.  There are many reasons to hate meetings but here are some of the top ones that I run into.
  1. Interrupts my most productive hours
  2. Often meetings are not relevant to me or my job
  3. Meeting content is relevant but not important enough to warrant a meeting
  4. Meeting leader has no clear goal
  5. Meeting leader cannot manage participants who slow progress
  6. Too many people
So after listening to Jason, I’m convinced that the problem isn’t just about making time in meetings effective.  It is also about reducing the number of meetings.

How can one minimize the number of meetings?  Here are some suggestions.

  1. Use passive communication technologies (eg email, message boards, wikis) that allow team members to respond at their own convenience.
  2. Have scheduled time for not checking any of these passive messages.   For example, no email will be checked from 10:30 to 2:30.  Companies could even go so far as have the email servers not deliver messages during those hours.  But what about urgent messages?  Ok, it happens (which is why we have phones) but with email, everything is urgent…which seems to also mean nothing is urgent.  Having some dead hours will teach employees how to work on other tasks and schedule *urgent* tasks at times when people are able to effectively deal with them.
  3. Have a “no talking, no meetings” morning every week (or month, or whatever works for your company).
  4. Reduce the number of people required to attend meetings.   If too many people are involved in a decision, there can be too much debate and decisions are often worse  since no one really has to take responsibility.
  5. Delegate decisions Bosses have lots of meetings so they can effectively use their time to make many decisions.  The problem is that while the boss’s time may be more effective, everyone who is in the meeting is less effective.  If leaders can delegate decisions, fewer meetings will be required.
  6. Each time you call a meeting, consider if it is possible to resolve the meeting’s goal using some other method such as a short one-on-one chat (and a chat is definitely different from a scheduled meeting).
  7. Stand up meetings I’m ashamed to admit that I have not tried one of these yet but short stand up meetings seem like a great way to eliminate the long sitting meetings that eat up everyone’s time.
And how does this make meetings effective?
  1. When meetings are rare, everyone’s mindset changes a bit to understand that meetings are important.  Time in meetings becomes important.
  2. By reducing meeting participants, it becomes much easier to make decisions.
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