When Shall We Be Free?

Oct 21, 2010 1 Comment by

Yesterday I talked about how important it is to have a clear purpose for your meetings.  Today I want to focus on how you can honor the time investment that people make when they attend your group gatherings.

One of my favorite clocks is in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. Sometimes my mind wanders back there during long meetings...

When Shall We Be Free? Have you ever found yourself checking your watch, iPhone, laptop or a wall clock during a meeting and begging to know when the misery would end? Wouldn’t it be great to know how much of your day was going to be eaten up by a given meeting?  Wouldn’t it be even better if everyone stayed engaged in the topic at hand for just as long as it took to get closure and was then released?

Set the Pace: Let’s set the time investment expectation right up front.  Start by considering the specific outcomes for each topic in the meeting.  Then consider what process you’ll use to get that outcome.  Take a stab at how long it might take to discuss it, resolve it, present it or work through it. It’s alright if your early estimates are a bit off – we’re just looking to set an expectation.  One of the first things we’ll

Just because Microsoft Outlook defaults all meetings into 1-hour increments doesn't mean every meeting needs to take a full hour.

check when we sit down with everyone is how reasonable the agenda looks – including the expected outcomes and time estimates. Plug your estimates into the written agenda – or if you’re using the whiteboard technique I described yesterday, simply add an expected duration up there by each topic.

Keep a Keeper: When the meeting starts, have someone track the time as it whizzes by and give everyone a head’s up when you have a few minutes left for a given topic or the entire meeting.  This “Timekeeper” role can be a very effective tool to keep the discussion from running on and on.  Here’s a very important point: Make it clear to everyone that the

You don't need to track split times or tenths of a second... but it helps to have someone watch their watch!

timekeeper has the right to blurt out warnings like “…We have 5 more minutes for this topic” in order to keep the awareness of time ever-present.  Expect a few smiles of approval when that reminder shuts down a dead-end discussion.

A Few Notes About Habits. Someone once said “A bad habit is nothing more than a bad decision repeated over and over.”  That’s how we get stuck in the rut of ineffective meetings. You can decide to try something different…

Seriously think about the bad habits a team can fall into that make meetings ineffective...

One could say that a good habit is just a series of excellent decisions repeated over and over. Estimating and tracking time spent in meetings may seem awkward at first, but as you develop the habit of time-boxing your topics, you’ll get better at it.  Your team members will also start to notice who tends to abuse the time limits and a bit of peer pressure should kick in.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat: With repeated use, the timekeeper role becomes part of the natural way your team conducts meetings.  Rotate who does it so no one gets labeled as the permanent Time Cop.  (Rotating meeting roles can also be a great way to break down the barriers between management levels, but that’s another blog post for another day…)

Every minute is precious and once it's gone, it's gone!

Using blatant time tracking also sets the expectation that EVERY meeting should have a stated time limit and EVERY person attending a meeting should respect the time investment of every other attendee.  Try it.  If you shave even 10 minutes off a meeting with 6 people – you’ve saved the equivalent of a person-hour and that’s real money.


Questions for Chatter:

  1. How can you tell how much time to set aside for a given topic before the meeting even starts?  What if you need more time than you allotted for the topic?

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I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

One Response to “When Shall We Be Free?”

  1. The Art of Showing Up | theBigRocks of Change says:

    […] “When Shall We Be Free?” (The basics on how to conduct effective meetings.) ‎ […]

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