In this TED talk, Jason Fried, founder of 37 signals, discusses how people get work done. When asked where do you go when you really need to get something done, almost no-one says: the office (unless it is early in the morning or late at night)? This is especially for creative people and knowledge workers. They need long stretches of uninterrupted time to concentrate. “The real problems in the office are the managers and the meetings.”
He offers 3 suggestions to make the office a place people can get work done. No talk Thursdays. And if that is too much how starting with 1/2 a day Thursday once a month. Second, replace active distraction (meeting, going and talking to a person) with passive distraction (email and IM) that a person can turn off when they need to focus. I have found this very useful myself. And third, cancel meetings. He closes with: I hope I have given managers reasons “to think about about laying off a little bit and giving people some time to get work done.”
A bit of fun from Dilbert. I have had the exact experience Dilbert does of tech support refusing to think about the actual symptoms of the problem and insisting on following some script and wasting my time – repeatedly. The second act takes on another time waster with a management tip from Dogbert: “Always postpone meetings with time wasting morons.” Dogbert hasn’t quite adopted the respect for people principle.
Meetings are perennial problems. People sit through meetings and then complain about how big a waste of time it was. Here are a couple very simple tips to try and actually improve (instead of just agreeing that meetings are wasteful, but doing nothing to improve).
Have an agenda (with desired outcomes – decision on x, or whatever) and stick to it (I think you can successfully adapt as the meeting goes on, but be truthful, can you do so successfully – if so fine, if not stick to the agenda). If there are no desired outcomes, why are you meeting?
Most of the time you can improve just by having fewer meetings. So when you find there is no actually benefit to a meeting be happy – that is one more meeting that can be eliminated.
Document decisions on a flip chart that everyone can see in the meeting and then email everyone the decisions. This is a huge help in my experience. People often just want to get the meeting over with, so everyone just ignores that no decision has actually been made and just hopes the meeting ends. For those things you have decided it is worth meeting on, it is worth making sure everyone understands the decision the same way (how often do you waste time in between meetings and in future meetings as people present alternative versions of what was actually decided.
Talk to those involved in regular meetings and ask what can be improved. Improve your meeting process over time. If you don’t have an improvement process in place for meetings that is a bad sign.
I would strongly suggest if someone thinks they need to answer emails… instead of pay attention to the meeting they should not be in the meeting. Some people love to multi-task and act like they are too important to focus on something. I don’t find that true, instead they are just people that like to seem busy but not actually accomplish tasks. If your staff are doing this stop them. If you are subjected to working with such people, try to exclude them from the meeting and deal with people that actually care to focus and get things done.
Critical people on the other hand I find valuable (while others don’t want to deal with them). Encourage people to be open if meetings are not an effective use of their time. Talk to them about how to improve the meeting process. I take as true the idea that meetings are a problem and so those willing to state this and help make them better should be valued.
Instead, she encourages such comments as “The experimentation on the site shows that his design performed 10% better.” This works for Google, because it builds a culture driven by customer feedback data, not the internal politics that pervade so many of today’s corporations.
I will not waste your time and regurgitate all the expert based meeting protocols like following an established agenda, having a meeting plan, taking meeting notes, etc. All these ideas are great and work well. Instead, I have a list of a few meeting musts that may guide you to more productive meeting time.
The post provides good tips on what to avoid. Given how many people know that many meetings are a waste of time, taking steps to improve meeting effectiveness is a good way to gain some credibility for management improvement activities. Doing so is very visible. Unfortunately, even with the simple and good ideas on how to do better – many meetings that are full of waste. Continue reading →