Here’s an experiment we could all carry out. Evaluate the cost of your next meeting with this website. Now, in the comments to this blog post post a comment with the cost of your next meeting. Add to it any additional costs of travel etc.
You should find the answer a bit scary. That money has been blown. Straight off the bottom line, and in many companies needs to be earned at a ratio of 1:10 to cover costs. So for ever $100 in the cost of your meeting, the company needs to earn about $1000 to make that back again.
We all go to pointless meetings, often held by people who think having a meeting is the best way collaborate and work out problems. I propose a different way. None of the following is new, and in fact has been around in many different forms for many years, but I thought we could do with a refresher:
- Don’t go to any meeting without having read the agenda. If the meeting organizer can’t produce an agenda, then you’re going to be wasting your time.
- If there are papers to be discussed at the meeting, have these been sent out in advance for reading? A meeting is not about handing out stuff to read, it’s about discussing the content.
- Can you join the meeting without travelling? Travel time is dead time for most people. I am sure we have all travelled for hours to attend a meeting that lasts an hour. Could you join by conference call? Web meeting?
- Is someone recording a set of actions? Will these actions be monitored? If this is going to be a productive meeting, people will most likely get stuff to do as a result of the meeting. Are these being written down centrally and circulated? Without this I will likely have a different understanding of what I have to do than the others. Misunderstandings are easy.
You can probably guess that I am going to recommend some sort of centralized strategy for handling these problems. In a social business, one that is transparent, engaged and nimble, we can conduct the majority of a meeting without actually being face to face in “synchronous” time. Here’s what I do:
- Set up a meeting space for the meeting. Normally I do this as a community. Doing it this way gives me lots of options for content and managing actions.
- Next I put the agenda up there. I normally do this as an Activity. That way, at the meeting I can work through the points of the agenda and record what we do or say against each point.
- Notify those attending the meeting that the agenda is up there. Ask for comments about the agenda and have the comments posted against it so everyone can see.
- Get any supporting documentation up onto the Agenda before the event. Make sure people know its there. I often check the Downloads of the files I post ahead of the meeting to make sure that the right people have actually looked at the information I have put up.
- Create a Meeting Activity, related to the Agenda Activity, to record the actions and the discussion. I use sections for each of the agenda points in the Meeting Activity as headings and then post as Entries the points to be raised. This gives everyone the chance to understand which way the discussion needs to go, and let’s them start commenting in advance.
- At this point the discussion about your meeting has already started. The meeting, to some extent, has already begun – but asynchronously. We’re not all in the room at the same time but we’re debating the contents of the discussion and contributing.
- If you need to, break a discussion out in to a Forum. Encourage debate and ask questions of the people who will attend the meeting. Seek engagement from those who are involved.
Often people claim that they don’t have time to take part in these kind of things because they are too busy. Too busy going to pointless meetings, perhaps? The payoff of this approach is that sometimes no face-to-face meeting is needed or, it’s reduced from the scheduled hour to ten minutes to simply agree on the actions.
Naturally, you record the actions as To-Do items in the Meeting Activity so that people can track what they have to do, and everyone can see what everyone’s actions are (just like they would in meeting minutes), but the meeting minutes are now already written.
8. At the next meeting – the “Matters Arising” section is a case of scanning down the To-Do entries of the last meeting.
This might seem like a glib way of running meetings, but I promise you that if you try only some of these techniques in your next meetings you will get back some of that lost time. What you choose to do with the remainder of the 50 minutes in your gained-hour is up to you!
You are welcome to check out my example meeting community on IBM’s Greenhouse system (free registration required).