Today, I’m working through our Radical Time Management workshop with a group of business owners who have signed up to QUB’s CPD programme. One aspect of today will be to discuss how to decide whether a meeting is really necessary, how to get out of meetings or delegate someone to go in your place. However, should it arise that a meeting is entirely necessary, then here are the rules.

I debated whether to call this blog post, Stand, Breathe and Deliver, or perhaps The Oxygenated Highwayman. You figure it out!

What a Meeting is Not

A meeting is not:

  • A talking shop, for discussing and debating.
  • An opportunity to catch up with the social gossip within your organisation.
  • A chance to bitch about the staff/management en masse.

If your meetings include any of these activities, eliminate them and reclaim your time.

Avoid Having a Meeting At All

Few people enjoy meetings. Become the darling of your management team by suggesting sane alternatives:

  • Pick up the phone and ask a question.
  • Send an email with Voting Buttons or a Survey to elicit opinions or a series of swift decisions.
  • If you need only keep people informed or share documents:
    • Learn how to use Google Docs
    • If you have more money to spend, ask IT to set up a simple intranet site
    • If you fancy yourself a competent writer, start an internal blog.

If a meeting is still considered necessary, hold a Stand-Up Meeting – see below.

There are only three rules. Stand, Breathe and Deliver.

Hold a Stand-Up Meeting

Stand-up meetings are characterised by the following:

  • Invite the team involved on a project, not every manager in the building
  • Attendees stand, rather than sit
  • Meetings are generally brief (5-15 minutes), due to the eventual discomfort of standing so long in one place
  • There are no life-draining, convoluted series of welcomes, points arising, matters pertaining thereunto, thank-yous, discussions, deliberations or any other such nonsense

I reserve my right to indulge in a little sarcasm, having once worked for an organisation where full-day meetings (with tea-breaks and specially ordered-in lunch) were too regular to dismiss as anomalies; they were planned this way.

  • All members are encouraged to speak (briefly), sometimes using a visual prompt (such as a conch, as in Lord of the Flies, but a ridiculously-shaped stress-ball would do the same job)
  • Updates state progress, impediments to progress and prompt immediate solutions, a format that works extremely well in software development companies, where it has been adopted enthusiastically probably because it fits snugly with the Agile project management style

Have a Meeting in a Forest

Get your staff or managers out of the office for an hour, and into nature. I highly recommend meeting beside a gushing waterfall. You can almost get drunk on the high oxygen in such places. Oxygen, exercise, and space are all essential for energy, creativity, problem-solving, motivation, brainstorming, and those of us who are right-brain dominant (for which our schools, colleges, workplaces and world have no place to play).

If this is impossible (due to narrow-mindedness, what else?), a local cafe might provide at least a walk in the fresh air, which always invigorates thinking.

Insist on Delivery Before the Four Horsemen of Armageddon Arrive

Interpret this how you will. Insist on delivery of the tasks assigned to individuals before either the universe implodes, the staff retention rate reaches unacceptable levels, the FSA sends their men in black coats, profits sink, or Friday is upon you. In other words, schedule your tasks.

Assign tasks to named individuals. Ensure everyone is sent a summary of the main points by email. I recommend a massively pared-down version of minutes, if at all.

Further, ask for a (not necessarily written) report on how the task went at the beginning of the next meeting. Slackers and procrastinators will soon get used to being held accountable to their peers. When you encounter persistent, malignant non-compliance, train or fire. It’s a simple deterrent.

That’s about all I have to say. Trust me. I’ve been there. Think of what my new BFF Richard Koch would say.

Koch would say 80% of meetings are a waste of time. And, 80% of time your spent at meetings is wasted. He’d tell you to prioritise and choose the 20% of meetings that are an effective use of your time, and attend those. And, be aware that while you’re there, you’ll only find 20% of THAT time is actually effectively spent.

In other words, go back to where I said, Avoid Having a Meeting at All.

If you need help in drastically altering how meetings happen at your organisation, get in touch.