Reducing meetings and influencing people…
… to do the same.
Last March I published this blog post over on the NFRS blog I contribute to for work. Today I am going to reprise that same content here in an effort to raise awareness via new venues, and in grandiose yet dire hopes of helping shift corporate culture towards respect for people’s time and efforts.
I’ve tried leading by example, running my own meetings in the same fashion as I’ve outlined below (sometimes failing to abide 100%, but still, improving each time). Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be catching on; likely because the meetings I host are for audiences who don’t typically host meetings of their own. So while I may be a good example, I don’t think I’m reaching the right audiences. Perhaps blogging and sharing via social sites will help me improve that reach and perhaps, just perhaps effect some change in how we schedule and run meetings for the benefit of all.
Problem: Ineffectual meetings. Meetings that take longer than they should. Meetings that don’t start on time. Meetings that go over the allotted time. Too many meetings. Meetings that consistently sound like this five-minute video… “The Conference Call” by David Grady.
- Don’t go. No, really… hear me out on this. If meetings are ineffectual, then no one will look at you poorly for bowing out. I can assure you, if you think the meeting is ineffectual, your colleagues likely do too. Now, I don’t mean “just don’t go” (this isn’t “Office Space” after all), I mean respectfully decline the invitation noting your inability to attend and make yourself available to the host to discuss why. Don’t make excuses, be clear about why you’ve declined, but choose the right setting for that discussion; a meeting invite decline with comments is not the right venue.
- Speak up and help drive the meeting focus. Don’t let the meeting get bogged down in the minutiae of “solutioning” when discussing a high level problem. Only solution issues when that is the specific purpose of gathering together. If you sense that the meeting is taking a turn for the worse, speak up and refocus the group. If you’re becoming annoyed with the spiraling, more than likely the other people on the call are as well.
- Having too many meetings on your calendar will likely take care of itself if you effectively implement the first two suggestions… divesting yourself from the ineffectual meetings, and more effectively participating in the ones you do attend will magically see your time slots open up to a point where you can easily and effectively manage your meeting AND work time. Imagine that!
- Only call meetings when it is critical to have all individuals present, or when a quick solution is critical to success. Don’t call meetings to ‘keep people informed’. Share results, but demand participation from the attendees in the form of calls to action or direct unfettered discussion.
But what about those meetings you HAVE to attend just in case something comes up, or to stay informed about developments and progress on projects or programs? Easy. That is what wikis, discussion forums, blogs, and RSS feeds are for; staying informed when it matters!
Collaboration does not mean scheduling a one hour meeting. Collaboration can be done at any time of the day, regardless of your colleagues’ availability. Using internal wikis, blogs, and discussion forums, you can not only collaborate more effectively and have written record of your progress, but you can do so across time zones and geographic boundaries. Using RSS feeds, you can keep an eye on any updates from a single location across communities and functional groups.
(Ooooooh, here comes the work plug! In the interest of transparency, yes, I work for IBM, and yes IBM owns Lotus. That said, I honestly do think the tooling I am about to discuss is effective and worthwhile, and I don’t say that about much!)
Using Lotus Connections, you can build communities to support collaboration and reduce the number of “essential” meetings you attend. Because Lotus Connections has wiki, blogging, discussion, bookmarks, file storage, and many other capabilities, the online collaboration can take place at your discretion. Priority management can now be more effectively accomplished as you no longer need to balance those silly meetings with getting actual work done. And because Connections is built with RSS features, you can set up your feeds in the tool of your choice to stay up to date with all the items YOU care about and participate on your own terms.
While I use Lotus Connections for a wealth of reasons in IBM, I find the most beneficial part of it all is the RSS capabilities. The RSS feeds I watch for the various communities I participate in allow me to quickly glance at updates and determine if the information is something I need to focus on now, if it can wait, or if I need to pay attention to it at all. Information triage, as it were, in milliseconds. This has truly been the single most effective tool to combat information overload I have used to date.
So, now that you’ve divested your self from those ineffectual meetings… are driving the meetings you do attend with a new vigor and granular focus based on specific agenda items posted to your wiki (and updated later with details of the discussions)… and are globally collaborating with colleagues across time zones, what more can you do to reduce meetings and influence people? The answer: Work on your meeting etiquette.
Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way… and I’ll say right up front, I have broken every single one of these at one time or another, so don’t think I am throwing stones in a glass house here:
- Mute. Use it. As a participant, use it immediately after you dial in (*6 on our system). Stay on mute unless you are speaking. When you’re done speaking, go back on mute. As a host, use “mute all” (*78 on our system) and use it often. There really is nothing worse than a great meeting being derailed or sidetracked by an accidental un-muted interruption.
- For larger meetings/conference calls, turn off the dial-in beep notifications (*33 on our system) when callers join or hang up. These beeps are the downfall of almost every conference call. A late party will invariably interrupt the speaker (who likely has already started late waiting for people to join) resulting in a five to ten minute loss of productivity over the start of the meeting.
- Get to the meeting on time. Seriously. Showing up late is disrespectful to everyone else on the call who arrived on time. When you show up late, you’ve wasted their time. Once or twice are forgivable, but when it happens consistently, those three or four minutes start adding up quickly. Imagine if everyone showed up on time, a meeting could start when scheduled, and END when scheduled, or gasp, maybe even early! Show respect for everyone else, show up on time.
- Know your audience. When speaking, whether hosting a call or just talking during someone else’s meeting, know when it is ok to joke around and when you need to stay focused on the task/topic at hand. There is a fine line between joking around but staying professional (call it casual professionalism) and wasting time joking when there are better things to discuss. Don’t make a long meeting longer by joking around. Laugh, and move on; we all have better places to be and better things we could be doing.
- Don’t multi-task. Actually this could have gone above as well as an indicator of an inefficient meeting: are you multitasking during it? Then you can probably divest yourself from it. If a meeting doesn’t require your full attention, it is a meeting you shouldn’t be attending. Conversely, any meeting you attend should be given your full attention, and by virtue, your participation as well.
But don’t take my word for it all… check out “The 22 minute meeting” a six-minute iGNiTe video presentation by Nicole Steinbok. Here’s the link to the instructional poster too. Nicole makes some stellar points via some very amusing fashions.
I truly hope this has given you some good tips, tricks, or tools to use to make your day-to-day job more effective and efficient. If for nothing else, I hope it gave you pause to think about what you can do as an individual to help make sure your meetings are run as crisp and concisely as possible, with few distractions, clear goals, and shorter run times.
After all, if you can make a small difference, imagine what we can accomplish if we ALL make those small differences….
image credit: (cc) flickr user Ha-Wee