How to optimise your meetings

September 22, 2021

Make meetings great again

Meetings can be valuable and energising if well designed. Or draining if poorly designed. Teams should regularly review and rethink whether their meetings are fit for purpose. This means meetings will constantly stay relevant and improve.

The purpose of the meeting optimization exercise is to improve team efficiency by making efficient and effective use of all team members’ time. It drives accountability by setting clear expectations for team member behaviour during meetings.

What's needed for this exercise?

When establishing a team’s operating rhythm there are a few key considerations to take into account. Different types of meetings require different approaches.

Sharing information: To keep everyone on the same page. Should be quick updates (30 mins?) and easy to absorb. These are not decision-making meetings. They occur on a fairly frequent basis.

Problem solving: Get team members aligned on progress toward team goal accomplishment, and the actions needed to improve performance. Problem identification and resolution meetings. Often benefit from structure.

Making a decision: The information presented is critical. Prework is often advisable. Having a clear decision process is essential.

This exercise is an example of a problem solving meeting. The purpose being to brainstorm ways to reduce the time and increase the quality of your meetings. I know, a meeting about meetings, it's a little meta...

How does it work?

Book a team meeting, you'll need roughly 1 hour. You’ll reflect on the different types of meeting that you have and how to improve them. You'll also consider the right meeting norms to make your meetings more effective and impactful. Let's get started.

If you're a Saberr customer, add this as an interactive exercise to your next team meeting to make the process super easy!

1. Set the scene

The purpose of the exercise is to establish an agreed upon set of rules governing team meetings.

2. List out your current meetings

(Approx 5 mins)

Write a post-it note or card for all the regular or recurring meetings that you have in the team in a typical week or month. Add the time cost of the meeting. Calculate this by the multiplying the length of the meeting by the usual number of attendees. For example if I have a 1 hour meeting with 5 people, the time cost is 5 hours. You want three things on each card:

  • Name/ description of the meeting
  • Time cost
  • Meeting owner (the person who requested it or usually chairs it)

If you have more than one of the same meeting in the same time period, submit them as a single card. e.g. if I have a morning catch up every Monday with 5 people for 30mins then add that as a single card, "Monday standup". If my time period under consideration is a week then the time cost is 0.5 hours, if my time period is a month then it's ~2 hours.

3. Sort your post-its according to meeting type

Sort your meetings according to whether the purpose of the meetings is:

Information sharing:

Status updates, progress checks, presentations, panel debates, keynotes, and lectures are all examples of information sharing meetings. The primary goal of these meeting is for the speakers to share information with the attendees. This could be information about things like the status of a project, upcoming changes, new products and techniques, or in depth knowledge of a domain.

Decision making:

Where the team needs to come together to agree on a course of action or present options to a leader who will make the final call. Examples include making a hiring decision or approving/disapproving a design. The main thrust of a decision meeting is twofold:

  1. Which option should you choose and why should you choose it above all others?
  2. Who bears the responsibility of implementing your decision?

Problem solving:

A problem-solving or innovation meeting is for one of two things:

1. Figuring out what caused and how you will correct a specific issue.

2. Brainstorming ideas or thinking up creative solutions to challenges

It usually involves plenty of discussion amongst all members of the meeting and may involve information sharing and decision making as elements.

4. Calculate where you spend you time

Add up the time cost of each meeting category so you can quickly evaluate how much time you spend sharing information vs problem solving etc. It may be surprising how much time you spend doing one type of activity.

5. Brainstorm optimisations

Now that you know where you spend your time, we want to reduce any wasted time and improve the remaining time you're committed to.

Start with the meeting with the biggest time cost.

If it's an information sharing meeting ask how the information could be shared better. The goal is clearer information in less time. Ask questions like, "Does it need to be a meeting or can it be replaced by another form of information sharing e.g. a document, a slack post, a video recording?"

If it's a decision making meeting, ask what would enable us to make better decisions in this meeting? The goal is to get to agreement on the decision faster. Ask questions like, "Do we need to come prepared having done some reading or pre-thought? Who's ultimately responsible for deciding?"

If it's a problem solving meeting, ask what techniques would increase our ability to problem solve in these meetings? The goal is to find a robust solution without getting distracted. Ask questions like, "Do we need some information sharing to start with so we're all on the same page?"

Each spend 5 mins each making your own notes before sharing with the group for discussion.

Regardless of the meeting type, consider some of the following meeting norms:

- Ownership. Does the meeting need a clear owner/ chair?

- Meeting length. Should it be as short as possible or as long as needed?

- Attendance. Does everyone need to be there or is it optional?

- Punctuality. Is it ok to be late?

- Meeting flow. Stick to the agenda or free flow?

- Pre-work. Required or not?

- Devices. Laptops, phones and other distractions. A no-no or inevitable?

- Follow up. Does someone need to summarise and share minutes or laissez faire?

- Review. Do you need to establish if it was effective at the end of each meeting?

Vote on improvements

Vote on ideas that you think will have the most impact (limit yourselves to 3 votes each). The meeting owners should then use that information to make changes to the meeting and adapt calendar invites. Each meeting owner should take on board actions to improve meetings and review on a semi annual basis.

For more ways to improve your team's performance check out our Manager's Guide to Performance Development.

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