It’s clear as day by now: unstructured, free-for-all meetings are everyone’s worst nightmare. Tim Ferris, the author of “4-hour Working Week”, serial entrepreneur and public speaker, is extra harsh when it comes to time wasted in unproductive meetings and writes:
“I don’t agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time. If the desired outcome is defined clearly with a stated objective and agenda listing topics or questions to cover, no meeting or call should last more than 30 minutes. Request them [meetings] in advance so you can best prepare and make good use of the time together.”
This influencer taps into quite a few things we’ve written about before: the importance of an agenda, setting clear desired outcomes and keeping time, all to maximize the value of any kind of meeting.
Keep it short short short
While Tim Ferris’s approach to limiting all meetings to 30 minutes could feel a bit extreme, the need to keep meetings as short as possible without compromising quality should always be the goal. This can be accomplished by following a checklist of “quality assurance aspects” that Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of Huffington Post website, talks about:
“If we have a clear agenda in advance and we are fully present and fully contributing, the meetings do go much faster.”
Thinking outside the box for productivity
Though not losing focus in a meeting is easier said than done, try varying note-taking and active listening practices. Or try shaking up your meeting processes by incorporating some “out-of-the-box” methods, like one of our templates for 30-Minute Brainstorming Meetings . Finding new ways of engaging with ideas and with each other will spur everyone to bring their boldest, most creative selves to the table. To encourage your team to let go of their fears and think big, you can relay this quote by Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos:
“If you never want to be criticized, for goodness’ sake don’t do anything new.”
Have truer words ever been said? This quote is also helpful for thinking of feedback given and gotten in meetings: don’t be shy about it. The high performers of the world are straight shooters. There is simply not enough time to tiptoe around an issue or guess at what people truly mean.
Listening is the key
Your meetings will be more effective if everyone can speak their truth — and that means everyone. A manager’s true mastery is seen in their ability to give everyone space and empowerment to speak. Kim Scott, dubbed the “CEO coach of Silicon Valley,” describes how she went about creating a culture of listening in meetings she lead at Google and Twitter:
“Sometimes creating a culture of listening is simply a matter of managing the right way. When just a couple of people are doing all the talking in the meeting, I’d stop and go around the table to ensure that everyone gets heard. Other, times I would stand up in the next meeting and walk around, physically blocking a person who was talking too much. Sometimes I had quick conversations before meetings. In other words, part of my job was to constantly figure out new ways to give quiet ones a voice.”
Think about the culture of listening in your meetings: what kind of personalities sit around the table and how can you as a manager make sure no one is overstepping or falling behind?
Whether a company consists of 2 people or 20,000, the challenges of running an effective meeting tend to be the same. So next time you’re problem-solving in a meeting context, think: “What would [insert empowering influencer’s name] do?” And next time you’re sitting through an ineffective meeting that can be changed by a few simple structural adjustments, remember these words by the entrepreneur and author, Gary Vaynerchuk:
“Time – the one asset none of us are ever going to get more of.”