Sunday, May 16, 2010

Inefficiency Through Default Meeting Times

This past week there has been a lot of discussion about the 45 minute 45 minute meeting from TimeBridge.  TimeBridge, an online scheduling site, has set their default meeting time to 45 minutes instead of 60 minutes.  They suggest these "5 Rules of the 45 Minute Meeting" to help you get started:

Plan ahead: Develop a clear purpose and agenda with estimated minutes for each item. Deliver an agenda far ahead of the meeting so participants can prepare and participate. Let others contribute to the agenda.
Cull the attendee list: If attendees do not have actions or direct oversight they don't need to attend the meeting. The bigger the meeting the more likely the time-suck. Send meeting notes to those who need to know about the meeting but don't need to be there.
Stay tuned in: Phones off, laptops closed (except for the note-taker).
Manage the clock: Call out, reign-in or punish the meeting jokesters, complainers and timewasters. Make sure you're not allowing the first agenda item to consume the entire meeting.
Give ownership: Assign owners to all bullets or action items. Make sure to summarize the actions at the end of the meeting.

My question is why stop there.  Why not try the 22 minute meeting.

I came across the 22 minute meeting from Scott Berkun a couple of months ago.  The idea is the concept of Nicole Steinbok, where she presented the idea at Seattle Ignite 9.

Here's the poster from her talk:

Here is a summation of the steps as characterized by Scott Berkun:

  1. Schedule a 22 minute meeting - Who decided meetings should be 30 or 60 minutes? What data is this based on? None. 30 and 60 minute meetings leave no time to get between meetings, and assumes, on average, people need an hour to sort things out. Certainly not all meetings can be run in 22 minutes, but many can, so we'd all be better off if the default time were small, not large.
  2. Have a goal based agenda – Having an agenda at all would be a plus in most meetings. Writing it on the whiteboard, earns double pluses, since then everyone has a constant reminder of what the meeting is supposed to achieve.
  3. Send required readings 3 days beforehand – The burden is on the organizer to make this small enough that people actually do it. Never ever allow a meeting to be "lets all read the documents together and penalize anyone diligent enough to do their homework".
  4. Start on time – How often does this happen? Almost never. Part of the problem is Outlook and all schedule programs don't have space between meetings. By 2pm there is a day's worth of meeting time debt. 22 minutes ensures plenty of travel/buffer time between meetings.
  5. Stand up – Reminds everyone the goal isn't to elaborate or be supplemental  Make your point, make your requests, or keep quiet. If there is a disagreement, say so, but handle resolving it outside of the meeting.
  6. No laptops, but presenters and note takes. If you're promised 22 minutes, and it's all good stuff, you don't need a secondary thing to be doing while you pretend to be listening. One person taking notes, and one person presenting if necessary.
  7. No phones, no exceptions – see above.
  8. Focus! Note off topic comments. If you have an agenda, someone has to police it and this burden is on whoever called the meeting. Tangents are ok, provided they are short. The meeting organizer has to table tangents and arguments that go too far from the agenda.
  9. Send notes ASAP – With 22 minutes, there should be time, post meeting, for the organizer to send out notes and action items before the next meeting begins.
You can also view Nicole's video from the Seattle Ignite show for an explanation in her own words.

Nicole started a facebook group to promote sharing of like minded individuals on preventing inefficient meetings.

I even came across a piece of software called LessMeeting that promises more productivity.  LessMeeting makes it extremely easy to follow meeting best practices for planning, execution and follow-up of meetings. In addition, LessMeeting provides key analytics that measure meeting productivity and efficiency across your organization.

What is really important about all this is the need to challenge status quo and make the necessary improvement to make our meetings as productive as possible.  I previously wrote a post entitled In Search of Lost Time where I shared several tips to help you save time and money by running effective meetings. I am constantly reminded of the phrase "You, me, now, at the source."  Our meetings really need to follow this axiom so we create value for our customers.

Many organizations suffer from meeting-itis: poorly-run and inefficient meetings that go on too long, happen too often and include more attendees than need to be there.  Keeping meetings brief, small, and productive isn't easy. Fast Company suggests trying unconventional techniques to make it work:

Share the ways in which you make your meetings effective.  Let's start a revolution in traditional corporate cultures where we find better ways to do things.

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  1. Tim,

    Good post. Some of these tools fulfill the important role of making the right thing to do the easy thing to do -- which is the only way a cultural shift like this can succeed.

    Joe Ely (Learning About Lean blog) and I are running a community A3 with about 7 organizations to see if we can develop effective countermeasures to meeting sclerosis. We'll be sharing results with the lean community in about two months.

  2. Obviously you are covering more than meeting times here, but I believe just using odd or different time increments for meetings has a lot of value. How possibly can people instantaneously transport themselves from one location to another? I like 20 / 50 / 80 minute meetings. I think Microsoft would do the world a big favor making those the default times.


  3. Using odd times isn't enough. They would schedule those meetings back to back. You would have to enforce a timeframe like start 20 after end 20 to. I think the true answer is just less meetings and more focus. I agree with don't penalize those who do their homework. Just start the meeting like everyone knows what's going on and eventually they will catch on.

  4. A 22 minute meeting leaves time for my 7 minute abs workout :)