The Best Method for Optimizing Meetings – READ more, MEET less, RECOVER time
The pandemic had many disastrous impacts on business, but one that is rarely highlighted is the proliferation of meetings that it caused. During the lockdown, people were forced to meet online through platforms such as Zoom, Teams or Google meets.
Initially, this seemed to be an amazing and efficient way to work. Technology had come to the rescue. Undoubtedly this technology kept many businesses alive which may have been inoperable if the same events had occurred just 10 years earlier.
However, there was a dark side to all of this.
People spent the whole day in meeting after meeting. As everyone was constantly available, being physically stuck in their home office, they were also constantly invited to back-to-back meetings. It became a new way of working. The initial euphoria of being able to work from home soon wore off. A condition known as “zoom fatigue” set in.
I remember finding it difficult to find time to get to the bathroom between meetings, which was ironic considering I was closer than ever to it!
The real thing it unearthed though was how unproductive people were. Apart from the stress caused by the pandemic itself, much of the resulting “Great Resignation” where hundreds of thousands of employees left their jobs was undoubtedly caused by a lack of satisfaction that people had with their roles. I would argue that this was partly provoked by the tidal wave of meaningless meetings that people attended during the Pandemic.
For managers and leaders, the problem of excessive meetings ( an illness I call“meetingitis”) has long been an issue, merely exacerbated by the events of the last 2 years. In fact, you could say the meetings often seen as a necessary evil have become far less necessary and eviler.
According to a Harvard Business Review survey in 2017 (Stop the meeting madness), executives spent an average of 23 hours a week in meetings, up from only 10 hours a week in the 1960s. Here is the summary of the survey´s results:
“We surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries: 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work. 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking. 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.”
I am sure that if a similar survey were performed today, the results would be even more discouraging. I often see online meeting attendees on the screen paying no attention at all to the discussion. Even if they are multitasking and doing some other work, there is little doubt that their productivity has been affected.
I have waged a long fight against useless ineffective meetings. I don´t agree that they are a necessary evil. Evil must be overcome and it is a leader´s job to do that, giving valuable time back to employees (and to the leader themself).
I have long been a fan of Peter Drucker who in his book “The Effective Executive” said that one of the most damaging things about bad organization is that it leads to an excessive number of meetings, keeping leaders and their teams from performing more important tasks. He said that meetings should be the exception rather than the rule. I completely agree.
Below I share a summary of how I optimize and reduce meetings.
I call this the READ method (as it involves more reading and less time spent in meetings, and a lot less time spent overall on both)
Have you noticed how nearly everyone books a meeting for one hour? Why is that? Who decided that was the ideal time for a group of people to meet and make a decision. No one of course! We are slaves to the calendar. As Outlook, Google calendar, or whatever software or diary you use conveniently divides our days up into one-hour slots, we sheep-like assume that meetings should fill one hour.
There is no reason for that. Make a change...
REDUCE MEETING TIME BY HALF.
Parkinson´s law states
the amount of work expands to fill the time available for its completion
In other words, if we reduce the time allotted for a task, the same work gets done anyway, just in a more efficient manner.
This law may not be directly applicable to everything in life, but when it comes to optimizing meetings, it works every time.
No meeting should last more than 30 minutes.
In my experience, reducing meeting time by 50% eliminates 80% of fluff and wasted meeting space.
If there genuinely is not enough time for the meeting to be effective, book another meeting. This will happen but you will see that only in quite exceptional cases.
REDUCE is the first, drastic measure.
Don´t think about it, just take this step now and apply it to every meeting that you control on your agenda today.
This is a statement of intent to the entire organization and has an immediate positive impact on everyone involved.
After having already taken the above action step, pause to consider what your meetings achieve. Evaluate their effectiveness.
Ask questions like:
Do they just share information or updates?
Are decisions made? Who makes them?
Is there time to execute decisions between meetings?
Do people do other work in meetings?
Does everyone participate?
I suggest that these questions are considered by everyone involved in recurrent meetings.
The answers you get back will be thought-provoking.
For example, there are probably too many “update meetings” where information could easier be shared through circulating a word document or mail.
Perhaps not everyone who participates intervenes regularly (in my opinion, the people who don´t speak shouldn´t even be there. They can be updated later).
Decisions are made by a few people or perhaps only one (the boss!). In this case, only the decision-makers should meet with the person or people proposing a change, the rest of the attendees are not needed.
Additionally, it is useful to survey all of your meeting attendees to see how useful the meeting is to them and the areas they manage. You will be surprised by the results (or perhaps not!).
The idea is to challenge the status quo. From this exercise, you will get a whole series of measures to optimize and restructure the meetings that you hold.
Every meeting should have an agenda, period.
First, on the agenda, there should be a description of the objective of the meeting. What is it for? What is the purpose? What is the desired outcome (problem solved, decision made, etc)?
Second, there should be an Accountability section where action items decided upon from the previous meeting are reviewed.
Third, the agenda should list the Action items to be covered. Each one should state what action is expected. The word action is key. No news updates please unless they are succinct and provide context for an action to be decided upon. (Longer text reading material should be sent before the meeting, preferably at least a day in advance).
Finally, there should be a summary section to list the decisions and actions that have been decided. This will be reviewed at the end of the meeting, listing who will take these actions and when they will be completed.
Delete the meetings that you decide to have no value.
The final step in this process is the best bit. To delete the meetings from the agenda that you decide have no use. You may find that there are quite a few! If you are in doubt about the usefulness of a meeting, I suggest deleting the meeting anyway and then seeing what happens.
If you don´t have the power of decision to do away with the entire meeting, then delete your own participation! See whether your absence makes any difference to you or the organization.
The deletion step is the most powerful and most satisfying of all. Be bold here. The advantages will outweigh the disadvantages and don’t forget that you can always put a meeting back on the agenda if you find it really had some use after all.
In summary, follow the READ process.
To do away with an inefficient meeting culture.
There may be more reading to be done, as people are no longer given live information updates and rather given documents that they must go through in their own time. This however is far more efficient as people can read quickly and highlight their questions a lot more effectively on their own than in a meeting.
The method is spelled READ for a reason.
Although this may look like a drastic approach to restructuring your meeting culture, leadership requires innovation, courage, and action. By questioning the status quo, by shaking everything up you are giving your fellow executives and employees time back to do more productive work, gain back some personal recovery time and also live a bit more. They will thank you for that.
Additionally, you can do the same favor to yourself!
READ more, MEET less, RECOVER time.
If you would like further advice on how to optimize your performance, reach out to me for coaching.