From Boring to Productive

by Armin, Co-founder

How to Run a Meeting Like a Pro

Let's be real, we've all been to our fair share of meetings that could have been an email. You know the ones - where you sit there, staring at the clock, wondering when it will all be over. But fear not, my dear readers! With these meeting best practices, you'll soon be the master of meetings and everyone will leave feeling energized and productive. So put down that coffee and pay attention - it's time to learn how to make meetings great again!

According to a study by the University of North Carolina, approximately 71% of meetings are unproductive. They also showed that how you feel about the effectiveness of meetings correlates with your general satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with your job! The simple tips below are just a few ideas to help.

1. Keep it small

It may seem like more heads in the room will make for a better outcome (more ideas, more information, more brains), but its not so. Marcia Blenko, Michael Mankins, and Paul Rogers, authors of Decide & Deliver: 5 Steps to Breakthrough Performance in Your Organization, discuss research done with data from Bain & Company that reported for each additional person over 7 members in a decision-making group, decision effectiveness is reduced by approximately 10 percent.

As meeting size increases, co-ordination gets harder, "social loafing" increases (the human tendency to reduce effort and motivation when working in a collective), and on average you get less optimal results. On the flip side you need to ensure you have enough people to provide the diversity of thought, information and knowledge, and visibility required.

Steven Rogelberg, in the book The Surprising Science of Meetings published some great rules of thumb:

  • 7 or fewer attendees is ideal for decision making or problem solving
  • 8-12 attendees is doable if the leader has outstanding facilitation skills
  • <15 is ideal for idea generation & huddles

2. Make it speedy

Meetings tend to consume whatever time we give them. Give it 60 minutes and it ends up taking the whole 60 minutes. So can you save you and your co-workers time by trimming and pruning your calendars? Before you schedule your next meeting think about these factors:

  • the goal
  • the count and personality of attendees
  • learnings from past meetings

Once you have an idea of the time required, consider dropping it another 5-10% to create some artificial stress - the Yerkes-Dodson law shows us that a little stress can actually help improve performance.

Hebbian version of the Yerkes-Dodson law

So instead of 60 minutes, try 48, or 55, or 50. As an added benefit, you gift the attendees a little time before their next meeting, which allows the brain to reset and reduces cumulative buildup of stress from back-to-back meetings (Microsoft Human Factors Lab study)

Microsoft's Human Factors Lab used EEG caps to measure beta wave activity

3. Make it convenient

Is everyone attending in person? Will some attend online? Whether you're meeting in person or remotely, figure out the location and/or video conference details and put the info in the invite. Make it very clear where and how the meeting will take place.

4. Plan the time

It's hard to think of a more generic and "must do" piece of advice than "write an agenda". Unfortunately there's little evidence to suggest that by themselves agendas improve meetings. What does help is recognition that meetings amongst a few people are very expensive activities (in terms of people's time), so purposeful thought should be put into planning the meeting. Generic templates are unlikely to help as each team/org is unique, but here's some things to consider:

  • ask attendees to suggest agenda items
  • order items purposefully (but apply some variation to break things up)
  • consider time allotments case-by-case
  • perhaps assign item owners to increase accountability

Remember, just like a good meal, a fresh and fun agenda is the secret ingredient to a successful gathering. Bon appétit and happy planning!

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