Hands up if you really enjoy meetings?

Obviously, I can’t see anyone, but I’m sure that very few people, if any, have their hands raised at this point. Meetings are, in my experience, the single biggest disruption to the day – and often they appear to be pointless exercises that just drain time, energy and resources (that’s money).

The higher up within a company you get, the more meetings you have. What no one ever seems to point out is that your workload increases, and generally you have more important tasks to do than those beneath you. Not always, but generally.

Recently, I was in a meeting. It was super urgent, convened less than an hour before it was due to start. With trepidation, I went along because it was about a project I was working on. It was scheduled to last 30 minutes, but like most meetings it overran. A lot.

At the end of it, I felt like I’d been flying an out of control aeroplane. I had no idea why I was there for most of the meeting, and about five different people seemed to be chairing it. Worse than that were the side conversations that were happening while ‘business’ was being discussed. It took me almost an hour to get my head back to where it had been before the invite plopped into my inbox. All in all, I lost about two-and-a-half hours of my day for what could have been done with a 2-minute chat.

Was this really a worthy use of my time?

Whether briefings or meetings, I’ve often found them to drag on well past their usefulness on 99.99% of occasions. Many could have been conducted in different ways, and a large proportion of them didn’t yield any meaningful result.

It seems I’m not alone in thinking this. See here, here and here for starters.

15 things that could help
For a workshop, I was asked to create a framework for better meetings. A Herculean task, if ever there was one. Not one to shy away from such things, I put together a game that organisations could play that would, hopefully, bring about better meetings.

I had some mandatory things on my list – and I’m surprised how many are missing from most meetings I have attended and still attend to this day. And then I created 15 cards for a deck that could be used to determine how a meeting would play out. Basically, if someone was going to take an hour of your time, you’d want to make it feel more like fun, right?

Yep. That’s exactly what I thought.

The Mandatory Elements of a Good Meeting

  1. Define meeting type: briefing, wash-up, pre-pitch, company meeting, etc. Describe what those meetings are about and make it part of the company culture to understand it. Give each one a specific time length, as a guide.
  2. Send an agenda and be clear about what is being discussed.
  3. No phones. Not even on silent. If someone is waiting for an important call they should be excused from the meeting, as it’s unlikely they’ll be attentive.
  4. If issues are raised during the meeting, put them aside – and be ruthless about that – to keep the meeting discussion relevant.
  5. No slides, unless they support the meeting.
  6. Informal meetings should replace formal meetings where possible. Use either an online platform (Twitter, Yammer, etc.) or better still, get up and talk to people if you’re able to.
  7. No biscuits for internal meetings.

Of the items on the list that follows, the idea is to pick a maximum of five and a minimum of three at random (they were originally conceived to be printed/written on cards). Follow their instructions.

  1. Outside Lead
    This doesn’t need to be someone external to the organisation, but external to what is being discussed. They facilitate – they never direct the group without consent but instead is there to keep the group on track and take the minutes.

    If it is felt that someone external is not required, the meeting isn’t important enough and can happen informally.

  1. Take Five
    Each item on the agenda gets discussed for 5 minutes only. This should be timed and made clear when an agenda is sent. This makes people prepare.
  1. Get-Out-of-Meeting-Free Card
    If there is a meeting that you don’t want to go to – or you feel is unnecessary – and you don’t have or can’t think of a valid excuse, play this card.
  1. Tweet the Minutes
    Be transparent about what you’re discussing. This can be done on a private channel that only employees can read, or a platform such as Yammer or Chatter.
  1. Stand to Attention
    No sitting allowed.
  1. Play the Ball
    Bring along a tennis ball. If you have the ball you can speak; if you don’t, you must wait your turn. The ball is tossed to each participant in turn. If you drop the ball you lose your chance to speak.
  1. Speak No Evil
    If you’re having a meeting to feedback on work, the person who created the work cannot speak. Be constructive with your criticism.
  1. Mission Statements
    Everyone present in the meeting should have a task at the end of it. If you didn’t get given one, the person who invited you must pay £5 to a charity of your choice.
  1. State the Obvious
    Sometimes, no one has the courage to ask the ‘stupid’ question. Make it your goal to ask at least one. And by stupid I mean obvious. Obviously.
  1. That’s Odd
    Start your meeting at an odd time, such as 7 minutes past the hour. It makes it feel important and ensures people actually attend on time. It may also mean those who are always late are actually on time.
  1. More Than Three’s a Crowd
    Invite no more than three other people.
  1. Hands Up
    Play this card when you need to get a vote. No one can sit on the fence, and everyone must advocate their position in one or two sentences.
  1. Minimum Viable Outcomes
    Workshop ideas to rapidly prototype solutions or to draw ideas out of the group instead of getting people to speak; use Artefact Cards or similar.
  1. Not Today
    Which day will be meeting free? Pick one.
  1. Decisions, Decisions
    The holder of this card is allowed to make one decision that they wouldn’t normally make – and it should be relevant to what is being discussed. What new ideas would this person bring to the challenge.

Bear in mind that these were created for a workshop. These may not work if adopted wholesale within your organisation; however, I would suggest you consider most of them and build in your own. If you have any suggestions that are used in your organisation already, or you’ve spotted elsewhere, share them in the comments or get in touch over on Twitter.