It’s no secret that meetings are losing popularity – and fast. From articles decrying the notion altogether, to executives who advocate for shorter meeting times, it’s fairly obvious that traditional meetings leave much to be desired. It turns out that cramming a group of people around a conference table might not be the best way to get things done or generate true creativity.
No company wants to waste thousands of hours a year on a function that no longer works. But before you cancel all of your meetings next week, they aren’t obsolete yet. Assembling your team to collaborate on projects and share ideas still has value. But it is time to re-think how we conduct meetings, instead of tossing them out altogether.
Old idea, new angle
Many fast-growing companies are changing the way they do meetings and reaping terrific results. The key is to design meetings with your company culture in mind, taking into account the way your people collaborate and share. The ultimate goal? To give decision makers the tools they need to make informed decisions quickly.
Here’s a look at how three major companies have changed the way they meet:
Google Ventures has instituted a methodology that ensures they don’t fall into the trap of having long, meandering meetings where nothing gets done. Called the ‘Note and Vote,’ their system helps generate ideas without wasting valuable time. a. Note: Each person writes down as many ideas as they can for five to ten minutes. This list won’t be shared with the group, so nobody has to worry about writing down dumb ideas.
b. Self-edit. Set the timer for two minutes. Each person reviews his or her own list and picks one or two favorites. Individually. Quietly.
c. Share and capture. One at a time, each person shares his or her top idea(s). No sales pitch. Just say what you wrote and move on. As you go, one person writes everybody’s ideas on the whiteboard.
d. Vote. Set the timer for five minutes. Each person chooses a favorite from the ideas on the whiteboard. Individually. Quietly. You must commit your vote to paper.
e. Share and capture One at a time, each person says their vote. A short sales pitch may be permissible, but no changing your vote! Say what you wrote. Write the votes on the whiteboard. Dots work well.
f. Decide Who is the decider? She should make the final call—not the group. She can choose to respect the votes or not. This is less awkward than it sounds: instead of dancing around people’s opinions and feelings, you’ve made the mechanics plain. Everyone’s voice was heard. h. Rejoice. That only took 15 minutes! Although not perfect, it But it is fast. And it’s quite likely better than what you’d get with two hours of the old way.
Virgin's CEO, Richard Branson, encourages mixing things up to keep meetings fresh. From offsite locations to special themes, Virgin relies on novelty to generate interest and excitement around discussing important company issues. As a result, Virgin is continually developing fresh, interesting concepts and ideas – a product of how they work.
American Express recognizes that every word matters. Their 4-Question Meeting asks participants to summarize the issue they’d like to discuss in five words or less. This ensures that speakers must think through what they’re bringing to the table beforehand, and quickly get to the core of what matters.
The 4-Question Meeting questions:
- What is the purpose — decision, information sharing or brainstorming?
- What is the issue — in five words or less?
- Who has already weighed in and what did they have to say about it?
- What will surprise me in this meeting?
Focus on what matters
Every organization has different needs when it comes to meetings, but they all agree on one point: longer does not equal better. Shorter meetings with clear objectives are often far more effective. Sticking to a time limit can help inspire workers, get everyone on the same page and boost morale – all without stretching the limits of fragmented attention spans.
As an added bonus, shorter meetings may save you money. By focusing on the most important issues, and tabling side conversations, employees leave feeling refreshed and ready to tackle issues. When people feel less bogged down with details that aren’t relevant to them, they’re able to be more productive and happy.
Keep it simple
How do you keep short meetings from simply becoming a smaller version of what you’re trying to move away from? Here are a few tips:
- Make sure the right people are in the room. Not everyone in a given department needs to attend every meeting. Trim invite lists to keep things moving more quickly, and free up those who could better devote their time to other things.
- Foster an environment that encourages creativity. Allowing people to share their input in a supportive setting is vital to stirring up new, fresh ideas. Opening the floor to everyone as opposed to letting just one person give a presentation allows for a range of perspectives that can help form a whole story.
- Identify the decision point at the start. What is the goal of the meeting? What decision needs to be made? Being very clear about what you want to decide before you leave the room is key to greater productivity. Otherwise, people can feel like they’re spinning their wheels with no true progress.
Your company may not look anything like Google or American Express – but your meetings can have something in common: employees who are excited about getting together to share ideas and equally thrilled about setting them in motion.
Do you have any to add? Please leave your meeting tips in the comments.