Productive meetings can be so beautiful. Everyone is prepared and shares their assessment succinctly and factually. Everyone is brief and does not repeat what someone else has already said. After 15 minutes, a joint decision is reached and the subsequent tasks are distributed. Too good to be true?
In agile corporate cultures, meetings like this really do exist. Maybe one of your New Year's resolutions is to spend less time in unproductive meetings? Let's look together at what each individual can do to make meetings more productive!
The initial example of the ideal 15-minute meeting already includes a number of factors. A successful meeting starts - logically - with preparation. But what happens when one appointment follows the next? This problem exists in many companies, it is also called "meetingitis", i.e. the meeting disease. The week is so full of appointments that there is hardly any time in between for the actual work, and certainly not for the preparation of meetings. It is hardly possible to organise meetings efficiently.
To counteract this, a number of questions are relevant.
In order to exchange information or update each other on the current status of a project, one can usually work very well asynchronously:
To do this, one agrees on a time in the week by which one's own update is to be deposited, and voilà - everyone is informed. By the way, this also relieves the burden on supervisors, who would have received the minutes of traditional meetings afterwards by e-mail. If your company or your team suffers from meetingitis, the first step is to take stock: which of the appointments actually have to be held synchronously as a meeting, and which can be absorbed with other tools?
Meetings can have different purposes:
Ideally, the purpose is already clear from the title of the meeting. In the invitation in Outlook or the calendar software of your choice, write a few short sentences about the question or task and attach a link to further documents if necessary. The less familiar the invited persons are with the topic, the more detailed you should write the invitation - your closest colleague will also know about it because of a wink and "as discussed". This way, the others are "caught up", you don't start from scratch in the appointment itself and you can use your meeting effectively.
The basic rule is to invite only those who have something to contribute to the meeting, i.e. as few people as possible. This is where the pizza comes in! Jeff Bezos once formulated the two-pizza rule: when you design a team meeting, the maximum number of people who should attend is as many as you can feed with two pizzas (i.e. up to 8 people); beyond that, the productivity of the meeting is lost. Everyone else who is interested in the results can find them in the corresponding tool (see above under question 1). In the case of cross-team voting, it can be sufficient if one person per team takes part, who first obtains an internal picture of the mood and then passes on all the relevant information as a multiplier.
The duration of the meeting should be adapted to the purpose of the meeting. If you want to work on something together, an hour or more is reasonable. Longer meetings should be planned as a team workshop with its own rules. Half an hour should be enough to agree or make a decision. Try out what happens if you schedule a meeting for only 15 minutes. You will find that all participants automatically keep their meetings shorter. This format eliminates the small talk that makes for good cooperation in times of remote work or home office. You could therefore plan the meeting to last 15 minutes and then, for example, invite everyone to a voluntary appointment to drink coffee together.
There are probably meeting rules in your meeting rooms that are supposed to ensure more productivity. In order for these rules to be effective, they should be supported by tools and tasks. A sensible arrangement is a so-called topic car park, where everything that has nothing to do with the current meeting topic is parked. This way, these questions or building sites do not get lost and can be dealt with at another time without getting bogged down in the current meeting. In addition, you can appoint a representative for the 'rabbit hole' - if the joint discussion gets too deep in a metaphorical rabbit hole, i.e. in great depth of detail, he or she will bring the others back to the planned level of discussion.
Other important tasks during a meeting are the timekeeper and, if necessary, a moderator who also includes those people who say less on their own.
Productive meetings can only be organised if the atmosphere is right. Ideally, the basic attitude of "I'm OK, you're OK" should prevail among all participants. Anyone who is dissatisfied with his or her own work situation will quickly find the tiniest fly in the ointment, even in a joint project, or slow everyone down with petty concerns. On the other hand, those who think they are clearly more competent than the others tend to take the largest share of the floor and brush off the contributions of others. And we have all certainly sat in a meeting that was used by two competing people to carry out another round of their conflict... If such atmospheric disturbances occur frequently in your company, the productivity of the meetings is jeopardised in the long run. In this case, it is worthwhile to talk to each person individually in advance - either to clarify the content of the conflict or to show the persons concerned what effects their behaviour will have. Of course, this requires some tact and, depending on the nature of the conflict, may be better handled in coaching or in a team-building workshop.
As you can see, there are many possible starting points for wasting less time in unproductive meetings. Some factors can be better changed as a team or require the involvement of a leader, but each individual can also contribute to finally holding more productive meetings in 2022. If you prefer to tackle this topic with support, we can work on this as a team workshop, for example, or on an individual level as coaching for professionals. You can read more about collaboration here.