Aut­hor: Felix Güß­feld, Assi­stant Con­sul­tant

31st of Janu­a­ry 2020

The for­mu­la is simp­le: 9 to 5, enough time to get the job done with rol­led up slee­ves and some plan­ning in advan­ce. Tho­se who plan effi­ci­ent­ly even have time for their own initia­ti­ves or sim­ply a lon­ger break. If it weren’t for the mee­tings!

Various num­bers can be found in sta­tis­tics. Depen­ding on the orga­ni­sa­ti­on, 30% to 50% of the avail­ab­le time is spent on mee­tings. One thing is cer­tain: The ten­den­cy is stee­ply upward. And who does­n’t know it from their own ever­y­day work: Work is piling up, dead­lines are cree­ping around the table And all you do is sit­ting in a mee­ting. Inner rest­less­ness, ner­vous­ness and ten­si­on are sprea­ding, you want to get out and final­ly work pro­duc­tively. But the next mee­ting is alrea­dy sche­du­led. Of cour­se, with an open end!

That’s why we say: 2020 without unpro­duc­ti­ve mee­tings! Here comes our SOICON mee­ting gui­de. You will be sur­pri­sed how simp­le methods can make your mee­tings more effi­ci­ent and, abo­ve all, more effec­ti­ve.

Before you get started

1. Name it. Your mee­ting should always have a clear­ly iden­ti­fia­ble rea­son. Loo­se infor­ma­ti­on exchan­ge, for examp­le, is bet­ter kept in the cof­fee kit­chen than in the mee­ting room, or in a struc­tu­red form as dai­ly stand-ups, e‑mails, chats or inter­nal news­let­ters. Be honest with yourself: Is a mee­ting real­ly necessa­ry or is an e‑mail or a short pho­ne call enough to achie­ve the essen­ti­al? Tip: Whenever team decisi­ons are requi­red or a result is to be worked out tog­e­ther, mee­tings are more advan­ta­ge­ous than online voting or long chains of e‑mails.

2. Less is more. Mee­tings are expen­si­ve becau­se they block capa­ci­ty. Try the Mee­ting Cost Cal­cu­la­tor from Har­vard Busi­ness Review to see this simp­le fact for yourself or show it to your col­leagues. So ask yourself who should real­ly attend the mee­ting. Who real­ly hel­ps you achie­ving your mee­ting goal?

3. Never without an agen­da. Struc­tures pro­vi­de ori­en­ta­ti­on. You alrea­dy know the rea­son for your mee­ting, now con­si­der the steps you need to take to reach your goal. Assign minu­tes to each item. By doing so, you com­mit yourself and the team to deli­ver results and it hel­ps to esti­ma­te how much time real­ly needs to be spent on the mee­ting. Share the agen­da befo­re the mee­ting and let the invi­tees know if they need to pre­pa­re anything. This gives your col­leagues a chan­ce to plan their time rea­listi­cal­ly. They will be gra­te­ful.

4. Time is rela­ti­ve. Think about when you want the mee­ting to take place. The likeli­hood that many par­ti­ci­pants will be late is com­pa­ra­tively high for ear­ly morning appoint­ments: hea­vy traf­fic, child­ren to be taken to school, etc. The dura­ti­on of a mee­ting should also be clear­ly limi­ted. Mee­tings, that are too long, strain the par­ti­ci­pants’ abi­li­ty to con­cen­tra­te and are not pro­duc­ti­ve.

All par­ti­ci­pants know the start and end times, have been infor­med about the rea­son and know what to expect from the agen­da. The cour­se for a suc­cess­ful mee­ting is set, keep it up!

It’s getting serious

5. Rules. Be honest: Who has­n’t caught them­sel­ves che­cking emails or brow­sing social media during a mee­ting? Set clear rules to keep your mee­ting pro­duc­ti­ve. That means: Punc­tua­li­ty, ever­yo­ne arri­ves at the appoin­ted time, no wai­t­ing for late arri­vals. Smart­pho­nes stay in the pocket and lap­tops stay off the tables when they’­re not nee­ded. Point out the sche­du­led breaks, which are for toi­let visits, smo­kers etc. Not­hing is more dis­tur­bing than con­stant com­ing and going of the par­ti­ci­pants. You are respon­si­ble for the disci­pli­ne and effi­ci­en­cy of your mee­ting, so com­mu­ni­ca­te the­se rules clear­ly and enfor­ce them.

6. Any worries? Sin­ce you are pur­suing a con­cre­te goal with the mee­ting, which you can­not achie­ve without the par­ti­ci­pants, it is important to crea­te a plea­sant atmo­s­phe­re. Con­duct a check-in, which is auto­ma­ti­cal­ly your first agen­da item. Whe­ther through smi­leys, wea­ther sym­bols or nume­ri­cal values — ask your par­ti­ci­pants whe­re they would fit in. Empha­si­ze that this clas­si­fi­ca­ti­on is not inten­ded to eva­lua­te the per­son, nor to sound out pri­va­te details. The pur­po­se is to record the cur­rent per­so­nal con­di­ti­on without details and dis­cus­sion, in order to adapt the way the mee­ting is con­duc­ted.

7. Put on dif­fe­rent hats and dis­tri­bu­te rolls. This keeps the par­ti­ci­pants acti­ve and relie­ves you as mode­ra­tor. Alter­na­tively, you can also assign the roles in advan­ce and inte­gra­te them into the mee­ting announ­ce­ment. The SOICON pro­po­sal: time­kee­per, obser­ver, mode­ra­tor, minu­te-taker. A time­kee­per ensu­res that the time is kept to the allo­ca­ted minu­tes; the obser­ver role ana­ly­ses the mee­ting in terms of metho­do­lo­gy and pro­vi­des a con­struc­ti­ve feed­back at the end to impro­ve future mee­tings. As mode­ra­tor, you lead the dis­cus­sion and offi­cial­ly clo­se the mee­ting. The minu­te-taker saves the infor­ma­ti­on in form of a pro­to­col (do not under any cir­cum­s­tan­ces have pro­gress reports made). The roles you assign depend on the natu­re of your mee­ting. Assigning roles will help you to be serious and disci­pli­ned, so that you can keep to the sche­du­le and pro­du­ce use­ful results.

8. Home­work! Take enough time for the end. A brief sum­ma­ry of the mee­ting, inclu­ding a review of the agen­da and the decisi­ons made, is pre­sen­ted by the mode­ra­tor. This ensu­res that all par­ti­ci­pants have the same under­stan­ding of the mee­tin­g’s out­co­mes and that ever­yo­ne knows what the next steps are. Alter­na­ti­ve endings belong to Hol­ly­wood, not to your mee­ting. Inclu­de topics that could not be dis­cus­sed but seem rele­vant in the minu­tes under the “To Do” sec­tion. That way, no one feels left out and you don’t lose input. But most import­ant­ly, assign peop­le to the tasks resul­ting from the mee­ting and record them in the minu­tes. A “we real­ly should do this” rare­ly turns into results. Also defi­ne con­cre­te dead­lines for the tasks and fol­low-up mee­tings if necessa­ry.

What’s next?

9. Share results. Send the minu­tes to all par­ti­ci­pants at the end. In the mail, clear­ly sta­te again which results have been pro­du­ced and which tasks result from them. If your orga­niz­a­ti­on uses plan­ning tools like Jira or Con­flu­ence, you can assign tasks direct­ly and upload mee­ting notes. It’s important that the infor­ma­ti­on is clear­ly shared and stored.

We at SOICON live our mee­ting cul­tu­re. Whe­ther it’s the many green smi­leys at the check-ins or the con­cre­te tasks and next steps resul­ting from our mee­tings, work­shops and off­si­tes — nobo­dy goes to mee­tings with a sto­macha­che. On the con­tra­ry: Mee­tings are a power­ful method for achie­ving con­vin­cing team results. But they always need a struc­tu­re that fits the orga­niz­a­ti­on and the teams. We at SOICON have found our struc­tu­re. You too can crea­te 2020 without unpro­duc­ti­ve mee­tings! We would be hap­py to sup­port you in this and find a solu­ti­on that fits your orga­ni­sa­ti­on. You can find our refe­ren­ces and other use­ful infor­ma­ti­on here.

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