Meeting Efficiency: the Truth about Boring Meetings

Real Meeting Efficiency


Is it worth to blog about meeting efficiency … AGAIN?

YES I think it is … and yes it is ABOUT TIME!

NO, this isn’t another list of tips for better meetings.

The truth about meeting efficiency

The truth about meeting efficiency

Face it: Whether it’s a team meeting or a business meeting, people still waste a lot of time just by the way they conduct the meeting.

Well, I think the reason why there is so much to read about meeting efficiency is that it really is an issue for a lot of people: people do waste time in meetings, there is no doubt. But there is also no doubt about that most people already know how to avoid unproductive meetings.

So the real question is: why is it so hard to run meetings efficiently, although almost everyone thinks they know how to do it right?

To answer this question let us first sum up the rules for efficient meetings. I collected these rules and recommendations from various blogs on the internet. (You’ll find the links to some good articles at the bottom of this posting.)

Before we start, let me make clear that the following tips and tricks for efficient meetings only apply for typical business meetings, team meetings, project status meetings, recurring management meetings, etc. They do not hold true for brain storming sessions, employee meetings, etc.

6 Tricks for more efficient meetings

6 essential tips for meeting efficiency

6 essential tips for meeting efficiency

Just to start from the same point of view let me sum the most important rules below:

#1 Don’t meet 🙂

Before inviting people to a meeting, ask yourself: what would happen if I skip this meeting?

When you skip a one-hour meeting with 5 people, you save 5 hours of productive work time. But what if there are good reasons to meet? Did you try hard enough to get the desired results through alternative ways, i.e. without conducting a meeting?

Once you defined the desired outcome of the meeting, ask if a meeting is the best way to get the desired result. If not, consider other methods, like email, chats, splitting up the topic into smaller / shorter stand-up-meeting, etc. Meetings are best when face-to-face interaction is absolutely essential, e.g. a performance review or re-energizing a group. But on the other hand, just giving instructions or checking on progress usually does not require a meeting.

You should think about meetings being very valuable time. If there is no valuable result in return…. don’t meet!

#2 Be clear on the objectives and encourage preparation

If you are not clear about the objectives of the upcoming meeting then it’ll be a  waste of time. So if you are the host, be precise and clear about the agenda. And even more important: HAVE AN AGENDA 🙂

Furthermore share the agenda  minimum 2-3 days in advance, so your attendees have a chance to prepare for the meeting. Encourage the attendees to prepare the meeting by assigning small tasks to them. For example: ask for suggestions, opinions, solutions,  ideas, etc.

Increase your meeting efficiency by repeating the objective(s) for the meeting and ask for feedback from all participants.

If you are a participant, try to convince your host that it’s going be a waste of time, unless the objectives are clear and understood by every participant.

#3 Shorten your agenda to the absolute minimum

Try to boil down your meeting to the absolute minimum and most important topics you need to talk about.

Keep it short … and I say short! If you cram in all ideas and topics into one big multi-hour meeting, people will get tired and you will have a big problem with following up on all results.

Consider that each topic of your agenda should be prepared by each participant. So your long agenda will also result in extra work for your participants.

#4 Who needs to attend?

And yes … maybe you already experienced a situation where people got angry because they weren’t invited to a meeting. Don’t care about them!  The truth is: only invite people who really can contribute to the result.

Informing people about the results can be easily done via e-mail or meeting apps. So again: double-check who you invite to a meeting. Stick to a minimum of participants. This not only saves the time of people who do not attend, it also brings you to the desired meeting result much quicker.

Also, you want only the absolute minimum of people attending. If multiple topics are important to different people, try to split your meeting into shorter parts and invite only the relevant people. This will also reduce the number of topics per meeting.

Don’t get me wrong on this: I like brainstorming. I like other opinions. But I don’t like these endless discussions. Meetings should be about results, tasks and decisions that’s it, and nothing more!

#5 Follow up

So the meeting is over. Now what? Hope for the best? No, certainly not.

First: Let all attendees know about the results. Write and share the meeting minutes (via email, meeting apps, etc.). Make it visible to everyone involved.

I know that writing meeting minutes is cumbersome. But it’s the most important thing about meetings. The transparency of results helps you and your organization to benefit most from your meetings. It reduces the risk of misunderstandings about tasks and decisions.

Without a summary, most of the meetings’ results will certainly get lost. Your team needs to see the decisions and which tasks have been assigned.

Furthermore: If tasks are identified, assigned and scheduled (of course) you need to follow up on the progress in reasonable intervals. Still, you want to avoid annoying your colleagues by pressuring too much on this.

You think this is not necessary or even annoying? If people learn that tasks are not followed up, they might start dropping tasks. Eventually, this will double your problem.

#6 Establish a hard time-frame

This is the simplest one. Be tight on the schedule. Begin the meeting exactly at the scheduled time. Starting late inadvertently penalizes the punctual participants, while you reward the late-comers. Start in time, event if not all attendees are there yet. That will make a strong point. If you repeat this method for the next few meetings, you will train your attendees to be on time.

The same applies to the end of the meeting: the meeting is over at the time scheduled. People are always busy. Therefore, you’ll frustrate them when you finish late, because they will have problems with there upcoming meetings or tasks.

Furthermore, think about the meetings’ objectives. If you covered them sufficiently, summarize the results and then finish. People love meetings which end earlier than planned, because they just won valuable time!

Remember: Meetings are about results. That’s it. It’s not about spending time together.

Now what? How to be really efficient?

So you say: “I already know about these rules? And still, your meetings are inefficient, frustrating or boring?”

Let me come back to my point that there are other reasons why meetings are still inefficient.

#1 Too many informational meetings

I think that people have too many meetings. Especially in larger organizations, there is a high number of recurring meetings. These meetings tend to have a rather informational character. Usually, they are not run to drive decisions or assign tasks. Of course, some of these organizational meetings still are needed to keep people informed and motivated. And yet most of the information presented in these meetings could as well be sent via e-mail or posted on a intranet blog.

#2 Bad Moderators

Another idea is that although moderators knows about the 6 tips for efficient meetings, they still not obey to them consequently. So knowing about the rule is one thing – living these rules is yet another thing. So it’s about training to be a good meeting moderator. And of course, having the will to be a good moderator is also important.

#3 No priority for meetings

The foremost reason for bad meetings is that the moderator didn’t take the time for a good and timely preparation. In our hasty times, people don’t get (or take) the time to prepare their meetings sufficiently. Or in other words, meetings do not get the attention they need to have.

Meetings are rather an unloved necessity than the chance to drive important decisions, or steer projects.

Meeting efficiency: It’s all about priorities

Therefore I say: it’s about priorities. Although this might sound unfair if your boss and colleagues swamp you with tasks and meetings. You simply do not have the time to cope with all of these. Therefore again, I want to stress the point that setting the right priorities helps. You sometimes need to drop some tasks or meetings to gain the time for the really important things.

This brings us to a very difficult question. How do you know what’s important? Well, that is something you have to discuss with your boss. Now it becomes rather tricky: if your boss suffers the same problem he or she won’t have the right answers for you. But yet, it’s worthwhile to ask. Why? Well, it’s the job of your boss to give you the right guidelines and priorities for your job.

Summary

There are further reasons why meetings tend to be inefficient, but I’ll spare that for further blog posts.

I tried to summarize the most important tips & tricks for efficient meetings. They sound simple and yet are so hard to obey:

  1. Check whether you need to meet at all. Perhaps there are other ways to achieve the same result (like chat, email etc.)
  2. Have an agenda with clear objectives. Share your agenda in advance with your participants. Motivate them to prepare themselves to the meeting
  3. Shorten your agenda to the absolute minimum
  4. Shorten the list of attendees to the absolute minimum
  5. Write and share meeting minutes and followup on tasks
  6. Start and end on time. Bonus points for finishing even earlier

I am sure that there are further tips you may have to improve meeting quality. I’d love to hear them. So please comment your ideas on this blog post.

But the real question I wanted to address: What is the real reason lots of meetings are a waste of time, although people already know about the rules summarized above?

I found at least the following 3 reasons:

  1. Too many (unnecessary) meetings
  2. Bad moderators who know, but ignores, the meeting rules above
  3. Wrong priorities

Again, I am sure you’ll have some comments on my point of view. And again I’d love to see your thoughts on this!

Further reading

Finally, here’s a list of worth-reading blog posts on meeting efficiency, where I got some ideas to write this post:

 

How companies like Google, Nike, Apple run their meetings efficiently

Over the years every business has different ways of experimenting with meetings. However over the last decade there has been a set of rules that every business uses. Here are three things that companies such as Apple, Google and Nike all implement in every business meeting to ensure they have a successful meeting.

How top companies run their meetings

How top companies run their meetings

Have a purpose for your meeting

Firstly a purpose, if there is no purpose to the meeting you won’t really get far as you and your colleagues will just go off topic. Next clear next steps, no matter the job role you should know your role and what to do as soon as you leave the meeting, if you don’t it has been a massive waste of time. Finally every business meeting should have an end time, without this the meeting can just go on far longer than it should of.

Unique meeting methods

Companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Nike all have some sort of unique method to use during meetings. For example Apple always try to keep their meetings short by ensuring that someone is in charge and there is no confusion. Next, Google always make sure that there is a note taker in the meetings at all times so if anyone forgets anything its right there.

Stand up meeting extends your life expectancy 🙂

Facebook also have a unique method of having a daily 15 minute stand up meeting, experts say every hour you sit down you reduce your life expectancy by 22 minutes. Finally Nike always tries to ensure that everyone at their meetings doodling, as a study shows that people who doodle retain 29% more information than someone who doesn’t.

To conclude the most important thing when planning meetings with colleagues always have a plan ready.

 

 

Tools for Remote Teams

Daniel Schwatz (is a full-time design writer and digital nomad) blogged about remote teams and usefull tools. As he sums it up: Remote collaboration is hard. Yeah … well said. Thus we think it’s worth taking a look at his posting.

The list contains:

  • AgreeDo (of course 🙂 )
  • Wunderlist for Task Management
  • Skitch for Annotating
  • Draft for Document Collaboration
  • Dropbox for File Sharing
  • Slack for Team Communication
  • Zapier for Automating Workflows

Read on for details.

 

Be more efficient at your meetings – The Flow / Change the scene

What’s the flow?

The American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was working on that topic in the 70s. For this he talked to high level performers like musicians, top athletes or chess players to find out what those persons have in common to be successful. He found out that the only thing these persons had in common was the flow state, that they reached.

Csikszentmihalyi found out, that the human’s brain is just able to take 110 Bits per second. It sounds like a lot, but to follow a conversation takes already 60 Bits per second. This numbers show, how important it is to be focused on your task without taking care of other thinks around you. If someone’s in the flow, he or she doesn’t notice anything else that is going on around them. Even natural body-mechanisms like hunger or exhaustion are not notice by the person.

The following graphic shows how Csikszentmihalyi explains the circumstances that prevent us from being productive, like boredom, relaxation or anxiety, get prevented by increase the challenge level and increase the needed skill level of each task.

Circumstances that prevent us from getting into the flow

Circumstances that prevent us from getting into the flow

How I get to the flow in daily life?

There are countless ways to reach the flow state, and the question for the method that guarantees the flow state still engages scientists. But there are still different approaches that make it easier to get into the flow:

Learn from the children!

When children are playing, they reach the perfect flow state, and the interesting thing about it, is that it works for adults as well. Additionally to that, adults are able to stay in the flow after playing and using this state to be more creative for example in a brainstorming session.

The only goal of playing is having fun. It prevents stress, increases creativity and you need to be active and attentive. Additionally to that, scientists found out, that we can learn the most and most efficient while playing.

So what does that mean when it comes to meetings? Gamification may be one successful concept to help meeting attendees to enter the flow state.Of course this will not work on regular status meetings. It’ll probably work for typical brainstorming sessions.

Another thing might be to switch the scene completely for your next meeting. Not only because of – getting into the flow. Why are people having “offsite” meetings? Prevent any type of distraction. But also see different things, and thus being more creative. When your eyes see a  new environment you may leave the “normal thinking”. You see the world with different eyes. Thus it helps to be more creative.

So in the end two concepts can be helpful for your (important / brainstorming / creative / challenging) meetings. Gameification and changing the place where you meet. Going offsite can be expensive and time consuming, though. But I came across a service (Spacebase.com) which offers special designed meeting rooms for rent. I think this is a clever idea. Didn’t tried it for our company yet, but it might be that we’ll have a try.

Managing and Tracking the Status of Tasks

Task listAgreeDo lets you keep track of all tasks you assigned to other team members. Click on tasks to open up the tasks list.

Managing Your Task List

Task list filterThe task shows your tasks and tasks you assigned to other people. At the top of the list you find 3 drop-downs to change the filter settings.

For the first drop-down you may select from:

  • Completed Tasks: Shows only tasks which were already 100% completed
  • All Tasks: Shows all tasks regardless of their completion status
  • Overdue Tasks; Shows only tasks which are overdue
  • Open Tasks: Shows only tasks which are still not completed and are not overdue

In the second drop-down you may select from:

  • Tasks assigned to me: Shows only tasks which I should execute
  • Tasks assigned by me: Shows only tasks which I assigned to other people
  • All tasks: Shows all tasks regardless of whether I was assigned to do or I assigned to other people
  • You also may select a certain person. The list contains all persons you assigned a task to.

In the third drop-down you may select from:

  • Oldest first: Sorts the task list from top to bottom by due date, starting with the oldest date first
  • Newest first: Sorts the task list from top to bottom by due date, starting with the newest date first
  • Shortly due first
  • Shortly due last

Requesting Feedback on a Task

Request feedback on a taskTo request an update from the assignee, click on the task, add a comment like ‘please send me feedback on the task status’. Don’t forget to check ‘Send as email’ and make sure to enter the name of the assignee. Then click ‘add comment’. An email will now be sent with your request.

Meetings: Wasting of Time?

2015-08-29 19_42_35-Meetings_ A Love and Hate Affair [Infographic]

Are meetings are wasting of your time? Unfortunately, meetings are often treated as waste of time by majorities of employees of the world. According to a recent infographic compiled by Lane End Conference Centre, 49% of employees consider unfocused meetings and projects as the biggest workplace time waste. However the good news is that they can be substantially improved by observing a few simple rules. For instance, those leading the meeting should spend more time on making meetings more engaging with things like visuals and activities.

Running the Annual Assembly for Your Club, Association or Corporation

All Clubs, associations and corporate groups who gather once a year for an annual meeting can find some help organizing this event in the following paragraphs.To build the right setting in order to tackle major decisions around budget, HR issues, and strategic goals, a few tasks need to be conquered. We asked Event Inc, the online event & location experts, how to best plan an annual assembly.

First of all, its essential to know an association rules, laws and statutes. Oftentimes, the constitution dictates that all decisions are legally binding. Sometimes, the constitution of an association also dictates the procedure and schedule by which an annual meeting must be structured by. When fixing a date for the assembly, consider that the date should not be during vacation because many members are on holiday at this time. Other faux-pas are: setting the assembly on dates such as national holidays or major sports events such as football events.

When the date is set, you can start searching for a suitable location. The location should be easily accessible for all members. Other important points are: availability of technical equipment, capacity of the location, finding a space with a great atmosphere, where your members feel comfortable, and other smaller points such as outside space (for smokers), air conditioning (summer), parking spaces etc. If the meeting takes places over several days, accommodation close the the location becomes essential.

Furthermore, you should think about a framework program for the assembly. An excursion or a dinner are great opportunities for a relaxed get-together. All important program points and the conference schedule should summarized in an agenda sent our prior the the assembly. AgreeDo helps you to accomplish that by providing a central location to organize all agenda points.

An last but not least: a good catering partner is of essence to make you assembly members happy. Some location have great catering in house, some ask you to bring their own catering. Just make sure: There is always enough food, coffee & snacks. Ideally, both vegetarian and meat options. Do ask whether anyone has any food intolerances or a kosher or halal preference.

When all major points above are cast in stone, its time for the invitation. Mostly sent out via post, but AgreeDo may also be handful, especially as members may use it to add their own points for agenda points.

Last but not least, the aftercare of such an event is essential: you should sent a summary of all discussed points to the attendees. Also, include members of your organization who couldn’t make it to the assembly. Make sure all important discussion points and decisions are included.

5 Useful Tips for Good Meeting Agendas

by Jorma Bork (pixelio.de)

by Jorma Bork (pixelio.de)

  1. Keep meetings short. Normally plan for 45 minutes to gain best meeting performance. Of course, there are  exceptions, but normally you’ll want to keep it short. Therefore, the agenda needs to be short, too.  For each topic use precise and short descriptions. Put all additional info within comments!
  2. Try to estimate the time each topic will take and add this information to the agenda items. For example:
    “Wrap up about project status at customer xyz (7 minutes)”
  3. Do not use general descriptions. Be as precise as possible about the intended discussion. Sometimes it’s a good idea to use questions as topics.
  4. Put the overall target of the meeting into your invitation text for the meeting. Tell your attendees why they need to meet and what the intended outcomes or results are. “No-one leaves before xyz is settled”
  5. If you want your attendees to prepare some info on certain topics, make sure to assign them to the attendees and plan for enough time for the preparation! You need to send out your agenda early enough so that attendees can come up well prepared.

Tipp: How to use topics?

Use topics with short and precise titles. This gives attendees best overview of the meeting to come.
Remember that you can shrink / expand each topic level. By shrinking the top level you can give a rough overview to all attendees when the meeting begins.

What to know about “public meetings” in AgreeDo?

When you create a meeting with the checkbox “public meeting” set, the meeting is accessible for everyone who has the link to meeting. So there is no security at all for that. Therefore it’s called public :-).

For additional security we advise to use a password for the meeting and forward it to the attendees on a secure channel.

Public meetings are good where there are people who haven’t got an agreedo account (and don’t intend to create one).