Most business meetings are dreadful. We spend 40% of our time in them and yet rate only half as effective. Organisations have powerful processes to manage money, yet do nothing to manage their most precious resource – people’s time.
So the obvious revolution would be to abolish meetings. But we are a social species. We meet informally all the time to agree things over a beer, or around the kitchen table. A meeting defines the group and creates the possibility of ‘the social mind’, the wisdom of a (small) crowd.
Imagine a world where people knew that an invite was only ever for a meeting that was necessary; that the agenda would only include something deserving the group’s attention; that you could decline if your attendance was not essential? My May Day would be made by a Manifesto for Better Meetings:-
1. Demolish most meeting rooms: airless, windowless, officious, depressing.
2. Spend twice as much time on the agenda and preparation than normal. If you haven’t prepared for it, cancel it.
3. Make the meeting half the length it normally is, except when you should double its length because there is a really big hairy issue.
4. Never have a meeting without a clock in the room. Or even a giant timer on the wall, counting down the minutes left.
5. Don’t start a second late, don’t recap for latecomers but do welcome them warmly.
6. Start meetings with 10 minutes of silence: One CEO found it saved time and improved the quality. Meetings should be about the nature of the experience, not just the process.
7. Ban technology. In 22% of meetings everyone sends three emails for every half hour. Do the deal: everyone puts their pads and phones away, you take breaks and finish early.
8. Be the servant not the master if you are running the meeting. Be a great
host – arrive early, stay late, make people welcome. As chair, your self- indulgence or laziness is the biggest barrier to success. Say as little as possible, and keep it short.
9. Manage the conversation. Set up each discussion so everyone knows intended outcomes. Spend the most time on the truly important things.
10. 70% of the value of meetings is on how you close and how you follow-up.
11. If you add a meeting, take one away.
12. It’s not a spectator sport: don’t invite everyone. And if you are not going to volunteer to do something for the group, don’t go to the meeting. Everyone present should be there to do something in the meeting and afterwards.
13. A good meeting is like an Italian family dinner. Challenge is good: lots of argument but everyone remains totally loyal to the group.
14. Have more meetings with people you don’t normally have meetings with. Not just anyone – obviously – but to talk about what matters with the people who share your interests.