Here are some suggestions for making business meetings more productive, efficient and effective.
Template for replying to a meeting request
When I receive a meeting request, I often reply with the following text. In fact, I have it saved as a TextExpander macro as a shortcut to typing it.
[ meeting-reply-template begins ]
May I please request the following information in advance of this meeting? It will enable me to prepare, participate and be productive in the meeting.
- What decisions need to be made at this meeting (if any)?
- What problems need to be solved at this meeting (if any)?
- What knowledge is planned to be shared at this meeting? (topics or documents)
[ meeting-reply-template ends ]
Suggested Template For Meeting Requests
Every time someone calls a meeting, they should consider using this simple template.
[ meeting-invitation-template begins ]
The desired outcome of this meeting is:
- e.g. Come to agreement on solution for issue X
- e.g. Make a decision about Y.
- e.g. Share announcements about topic Z.
- e.g. Continue to grow a good working relationship with each other by socializing in person.
Note: Explain what this meeting is meant to accomplish, instead of providing a description of the meeting. Focus on the desired result of the meeting. A meeting should accomplish one or more of three things:
- Solve problem(s)
- Make decision(s)
- Share knowledgeand agree to act on it and/or make it a practice
- Knowledge, as in: data –leads-to–> information –leads-to–> knowledge –leads-to–> practice
You should come to this meeting because:
- e.g. You are likely to have input into potential solutions for issue X
- e.g. You are one of the folks who has a viewpoint on what decision to make regarding Y.
- e.g. It would benefit you from hearing the announcements in this meeting.
- e.g. This is your opportunity to ask questions about topic Z.
Note: Give the attendees at least one good reason to attend. Sometimes attendees have no idea why they are invited to this meeting. Don’t be seen as a waster of others’ time.
The guidelines for participating in this meeting are:
- e.g. Please come prepared having read the document about ChaosMonkey.
- e.g. Laptops & mobile communication devices are considered contraband during this meeting. If it is critical for you to have a computer during this meeting, bring a desktop computer :-)
Note: Set the expectations of the participations.
[ meeting-invitation-template ends ]
Further Reading & Thoughts:
- A discussion on this template: https://plus.google.com/107443707510532643538/posts/WBov1aLx9QD
- An example staff meeting using this template: https://plus.google.com/107443707510532643538/posts/YuGSUuCh7w8
50/25 Meeting Format
If you manage a team, value your team members time and want to improve productivity at your workplace with a simple change, consider implementing the 50/25 Meeting Recommendation that some companies are embracing. You can communicate something like the following to your team:
We deeply value your time, your productivity and your comfort at the workplace. As a part of our initiative to make your workday more productive, less hectic and better manageable, we recommend a 50/25 meeting format. It is simple concept: As much as possible, let us take all our meetings that are 1-hour long and shorten them to 50 minutes. For our meetings that are half-hour long, let us limit them to 25 minutes.
You will find that a 50 minute meeting will accomplish no less than a 60 minute meeting did and a 25 minute meeting will be as productive as a 30 minute one was. In fact, by having clear 50 minute and 25 minute deadlines, our meetings are likely to be better focused, on topic and more attentive. (For example: Since you will have time after the meeting to check email, there is likely to be less temptation to check emails during the meeting itself.)
The extra 10 and 5 minutes will give you valuable time back that could be used for many useful activities: Getting in the frame of mind for the next meeting or task; checking your messages to see if there is something urgent that needs your attention; or simply taking a bio break.
Please note that this not a mandate, but a recommendation. We realize that you may not be able to do this for every meeting. What we ask is that you consider doing this for meetings that you organize or can influence. As a result, we will make our great work culture even better, less stressful and even fun.
Further Reading & Thoughts:
- NYTimes article about Larry Page, Google’s founder and new CEO instituting the same 50/25 meeting recommendation at Google:
- If a meeting accomplishes all its goals in even less than the 50 or 25 minutes, please, by all means end the meeting even sooner.
- We suggest that you do book the full hour or half hour in the calendar even as you implement the above so that others don’t schedule over the “10 minutes left over” in your calendar.
Thank you for considering this,
A discussion about this 50/25 Meeting Format: https://plus.google.com/107443707510532643538/posts/AtYgnmbhtqc
When to have and when not to schedule meetings
Companies should, by default, avoid scheduling meetings that start before 10am or end after 5pm. If an employee comes to the office at 8am on some days, it is often to use the two hours of the morning before meetings to catch up and/or get a head start on the day. Meetings that start before 10am are often harmful overall since they put the attendees in reactive catch up mode for the rest of the day. Similarly, meetings that go on beyond 5pm (or worse, start after 5pm) take away valuable time from employees that they use to absorb information and events of the day, catch up with replying to email and get ready for the next work day.
i.e. Companies should consider any time outside the 10am to 5pm window to be not available for meetings and definitely not any weekly recurring meetings.
Preferably, employees who are ‘makers’ should have one 4-hour continuous block of time each day when they are free from meetings. (‘Makers’ differentiated from ‘Managers’)
What Meetings to Attend and a Polite Way to Decline Meetings
As much as possible, we should only attend meetings where we are active participants, not mere attendees with nothing to contribute to the defined outcome of the meeting. There are some exceptions to this like training sessions, educational presentations or others where the purpose for attendees is to learn something.
Time Management Tip: When you receive an invite for a meeting at work where you believe you may not add much value, reply to the invite with a polite message like:
Thank you for inviting me to this meeting. It seems from the subject, agenda and attendees list that I’m not a required participant for this meeting. If I’m mistaken and my presence is required in this meeting, please accept my apologies and let me know that I should attend.
This is preferable to ignoring the meeting invite or declining without comment that may come across as rude. I have this text also saved as a TextExpander macro.
Discussion about declining meetings: https://plus.google.com/107443707510532643538/posts/inUkYy1Ufg7
Laptops, Smartphones and Other Communications Devices in Meetings
It has been common for over a decade to find people reading and responding to emails on their smartphones in all sorts of situations, including during business meetings. This question, however, is not about smartphones: It is about use of laptop computers during meetings.
In what types of meetings and situations do you consider laptop usage to be acceptable?
There are some situations, where it seems to make good sense:
- + Note taking during meetings: Saves time wasted transcribing later and better than having notes on paper which can’t be searched easily and piles up as clutter.
- + More secure than taking notes on paper that can be forgotten and read by others who should not have access to the information.
- + Quickly looking something up that is relevant to the discussion
- + Entering action items that come up during the meeting into your to-do-list (especially useful for GTD system users, e.g. OmniFocus.)
- + Meeting notes and action items can be automatically backed up in real time.
- + Quickly and discreetly asking a question, or sharing an opinion or information over instant message without disturbing others in the meeting.
- + Environmentally friendly, saves paper
- + As for distractions, the user can be disciplined and focus on the meeting. Perhaps even using the laptop to participate more actively in the meeting. (Even a person using pen and paper can be distracted doodling or daydreaming.)
- + This is the digital age.
There are also some reasons not in favor of using laptops during meetings:
- - It comes across as disrespectful to some other meeting attendees, especially those with traditional styles of working.
- - The laptop screen creates a “wall” between you and the people sitting across you.
- - The laptop does make it easy to get distracted into reading your email or other online activities. (A tablet like the iPad that lies flat on the table like a writing pad does not have this problem.)
Are there certain situations where it should be ok? For example: Large group meetings, small team meetings? Meetings with certain types of people? …?
Here is what I personally do: When I bring a laptop to a group meeting or one-on-one meeting, each time I respectfully explain to the others beforehand that I’ll use the laptop for taking notes and recording action items in my to do list only. I inform them that I will be focusing attention on the discussion and that the laptop is simply my digital notepad.
A discussion about using laptops, smartphones and other communications devices in meetings: https://plus.google.com/107443707510532643538/posts/NZ9NqEA7PVu