One of the best bosses that I ever had hated the time that meetings wasted with a passion. He felt that they made his employees less productive because instead of working on the things they needed to get done, they were all sitting around a table. A good majority of the time was wasted on stuff that wasn’t pertinent to the issue the meeting was about. If you have ever worked somewhere where there were a lot of meetings, you know what I’m talking about.
That being said, he also realized that meetings did have an important function of passing along needed information to everyone, to have discussions and to get input that wasn’t always conductive using other forms of communication. His brilliant solution? The stand-up meeting. I think every person would benefit from these types of meeting. They were the only ones I actually enjoyed going to because I knew they wouldn’t be a waste of time.
Instead of a normal conference room with a large table surrounded by chairs, he had a raised table (waist high on me, but chest high for many – a bit higher than your average conference table) with no chairs in the room. That’s correct. There was no place for anyone to sit and get comfortable.
It was amazing how efficient this one little change made. His meetings were downright quick compared to all of the other meetings I had to attend, yet the needed information was always passed along. Meetings that would have taken an hour with another boss would finish in less than 30 minutes. After attending his meetings, you could clearly see how much time was wasted in the other meeting at the office.
The main reasons was that you couldn’t get comfortable. When everybody is around a large table sitting in nice comfortable chairs, they relax a bit and start talking about other things. While they may not consciously be aware that they are comfortable sitting there, when you are standing you are definitely not in a comfortable position. People are much less willing to stand for a long time than they are to sit for a long time. That means that everybody is motivated to get the needed work done as quickly as possible so that they can move on to other things.
A few other important lessons about meetings that I learned from this boss that will make meetings more productive and time efficient:
Is the meeting needed – Sounds like a no brainer, right? He is the only boss that cancelled weekly meetings if he felt there was nothing important that we needed to discuss that week. Every other boss I’ve had has always managed to fill up weekly meeting time even when it was obvious the meeting wasn’t necessary.
Can it be handled more efficiently another way – Again, sounds obvious, but he was the only boss I’ve had that approached it this way. When meetings were important, he scheduled them, but he’d see if there was some more efficient way to get the information to everyone before scheduling one.
Change meeting rooms – If you don’t have the option of standing, don’t meet in the same meeting room week after week (there were times when meeting were longer and seating was essential) People get comfortable in the same room week after week and a meeting is not a place where you want people to be comfortable as it will extend the length of the meeting.
Change Chairs – Much like the room, people always sitting in the same seat will make them more comfortable. Always mixing up the seating arrangement will help cut down on this.
Don’t set a concrete time period – If a meeting is set to run from 2:00 to 3:00, it will inevitably last until 3:00 since everyone has marked it on their calendar. Instead, his meeting were always announced as it will start at 2:00 and take less than 60 minutes. This slight change of phrasing gave all of us the expectation the meeting would end sometime before 3:00, so rarely did his meeting last the full hour.
Start on time – His meeting always started on time and you learned very quickly that he would not wait on you. If you did arrive late, the meeting continued on – there was no quick summary to help you catch up. What this meant was that people always showed up for his meeting on time, which wasn’t the case for many other meetings at the company.
Have the meeting outlined before they start – I always had a piece of paper with a short bullet list outlining what was going to take place in the meeting before I ever got there. While other bosses did this (and others didn’t), his were the easiest to know exactly what needed to be discussed. They were the main points only while many others tried to cram in all kinds of detail.
Stay on subject – he ran an extremely tight ship during his meetings and any discussion that was pertinent to what that meeting was about was quickly stopped.
If you have never been in an efficiently run productive meeting, you probably won’t believe me that meetings really can be enjoyable. The only problem was that it made all the other meetings I attended that much more excruciating. If you are working somewhere where the meetings are wasting your valuable time, I encourage you to suggest some of the above changes. Not only will it make your work group more productive, it will make everyone a lot happier, too.