Let’s meet to talk about what to meet about

Summary: A post about the world’s greatest time (wasting) machine. Read to save hours of time that you could’ve instead used to read my blog.

Best practices are often not the best. They can become better! One such best practice is having an agenda for meetings. This has been an area that has often been overlooked, but is slowly becoming a norm in most companies now. I once had a boss who would not accept meeting invites that did not have an agenda. That is step 0, the best practice. What I have noticed is step 1 is never given attention. Step 1 is sticking to the agenda, the better practice. The number of meetings in a day may vary depending on your role in the company. But, be it a 15 minutes of meeting/day or hour-long ones, sticking to an agenda is what makes them really productive. Thanks to by boss, I made it a habit to send out an agenda with every meeting invite. A “three-point” agenda as I would call it was not a bad choice. The meetings would start well – point 1 and go onto points 1.1, 1.2, 1.2.3, 1.3.4.2…Before you know, the meeting is over and the three-point agenda that was made becomes quite pointless.

Meetings for a long time now have been seen as unproductive and as a time killer. But this does not stop companies and people from scheduling meetings almost every day. Research shows that around 5bn meetings happen yearly, that’s roughly about 12.5 K meetings every minute; and this is a study of only the Fortune 500. It’s not just the time, but also the money. The research also shows how billions are spent and lost in meetings. Now, for the best worst part of them all: the productivity levels during meetings range from 33-47%. What does this mean? Remember the classic 10th grade math problem: “A group can complete a piece of work in 6 days and another takes 12 days to do complete the same piece of work…”. While in meetings, you fall in the second group when you could really belong to the first.

I am sure you have been in a number of meetings yourself. Remember the number of times to hit accept without even knowing what the meeting was about. As Thomas Kayser put it bluntly:

“A meeting is an interaction where the unwilling, selected from the uninformed, led by the unsuitable, to discuss the unnecessary, are required to write a report about the unimportant.”

I have been in some meetings during which the productivity levels have peaked. What was responsible for this is “sticking to the agenda”. With making an agenda now becoming commonplace or at least i think it has, it’s time to make this more effective and efficient by taking the next step.

Sometimes, sticking to the agenda is a challenge, especially if you make one without having the power to control it. The only control you may have is that of controlling the slides. If you are not authority and some cases even when you are, you cannot interject the person making point 1.2.3.4. When you see the meeting is veering off into a black hole, immediately flash the agenda back on screen. It’s simple!

For years now, the second slide in every presentation has been the agenda. Trust me, the next few slides could be something completely different and you woul
dn’t notice. Instead, having that one slide agenda in a separate presentation will prove more useful. With minimal effort, you could flash the agenda back on the screen to help bring the meeting on track and make it more productive. In the process you also avoid the rude interruption.

So, it’s time we take step 1 to get accepted into the group that finished the piece of work in 6 days. Wishing you productive meetings! I will leave you with a Dilbert special

Written in July 2015.

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