Chaco Canyon Consulting

Do You Spend Your Days Scurrying from Meeting To Meeting?

Do you ever wonder why you're sitting in this particular meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is)

Meeting Madness afflicts Skip to the Details:
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almost every organization. And as we make more use of dispersed teams and outsourcing, we become increasingly dependent on meetings, because of the more limited opportunities for casual communication. If we ever find our way out of this meeting mess, we can be sure that making meetings more effective, less numerous and shorter will be features of the solution. This tip book shows you how.

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsIn my own experience, and in the course of working with clients in my consulting and coaching practices, I've learned a lot about what works and what doesn't when we try to make meetings more effective. Some of what I've learned is just good practice and has appeared in the literature over the years. But much is very new, developed in response to the rapid structural and technological change that has swept through today's office.

This tip book is both like and unlike many other collections of ideas for effective meetings. Like others, it's packed with ideas and suggestions that will reduce the time you spend in meetings, and make the time you do spend in meetings much more productive and less stressful.

Unlike others, this tip book also provides suggestions for organizational leaders — ideas for adjusting the organizational culture to support meeting effectiveness, while at the same time reducing the need for meetings.

Some sample tips

Here's a sample:

Have a Not-Agenda
Include with the agenda a not-agenda: a list of topics that are off limits for this meeting. Indicate when these items might be expected to be on a future agenda.
Stay away from your subordinates' meetings
Rarely is visiting a subordinate's meeting a good idea. The risk of disrupting the meeting is high, but your visit can even disrupt relationships between the meeting participants.
Manage the burden of meetings
People who ordered this item also ordered 404 Tips for Business Travel and 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams.Measure the average percentage of time that people in your organization spend in meetings. Use cleverness, creativity and brainpower to try to drive it lower.
Have too many conference rooms
If you have too few conference rooms, people feel compelled to book them far in advance, which creates a false need for regular meetings, which in turn increases the demand for conference rooms. If you ever notice that all the conference rooms are booked, create more.
Limit presentations to 15 minutes
Since no meeting should go more than 90 minutes, presentations that run longer than 15 minutes significantly cut into the time available for discussion. If you want people to hear a longer presentation, schedule a presentation, not a meeting.


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What's in this book

Here's a chapter-by-chapter summary of what you'll find in this tips book.

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Manage the agenda

  • Poll for agenda items before you announce the agenda
  • Circulate the agenda in advance
  • Focus the agenda
  • Have a Not-Agenda
  • Clearly define the meeting's objectives
  • Post the agenda during the meeting
  • Make the first item "Review Agenda"
  • Use a parking lot

Invite the right people

  • Invite everyone you need
  • Don't invite people you don't need
  • Consider inviting a facilitator
  • Consider inviting interpreters
  • Have some people on call
  • Stay away from your subordinates' meetings
  • Beware ex-officios
  • Manage the burden of meetings

Configure the room

  • Give each person enough space
  • For small meetings, use a round table
  • Chair from a central location
  • Chair from the sweet spot
  • For large meetings, use a mic
  • Consider movable furniture
  • Set an appropriate temperature

Manage time

  • Choose the day of the week carefully
  • Choose the start time carefully
  • Start on time
  • Use multiple media to announce changes or cancellations
  • Eliminate lunch meetings
  • Avoid the hour right after lunch
  • Try to get 11:00 am
  • Limit the length of your meetings
  • Limit presentations to 15 minutes
  • Limit discussions to 30 minutes
  • Stay out of the rabbit hole
  • Designate someone as a Digression Detector
  • Learn from digressions
  • Allocate time for puzzles
  • If an item runs over, suspend it or review the agenda
  • Hold some time in reserve
  • Schedule the next meeting in email
  • For a regular meeting, have ground rules
  • Consider special needs
  • Take personal responsibility
  • Halt all sidebars
  • Don't characterize the positions of others
  • Value some kinds of interruptions
  • Value opposition
  • Be creative in resolving debates
  • Accept suggestions without strings
  • Have too many conference rooms
  • Avoid "serial-status-report"
  • Circulate handouts well in advance

Have constructive conversation

  • If things get heated, declare a three-exchange dialog
  • If you get near the boiling point, take a brief silent break
  • If you see a pile-up, call a halt
  • Watch for trips to Abilene
  • Ask the tough questions
  • Stop sidebars
  • Take milling-about breaks
  • Distinguish problem solving from problem defining
  • For handouts, print at least two slides per page
  • Know when to halt

Manage technology

  • Use technology appropriately
  • Think before you PowerPoint
  • Avoid playing PowerGeek
  • Check your hardware at the door
  • Ban IM

Tune for teleconferences

  • Expect to get less done
  • Recognize that teleconferences have limitations
  • Set alternate times, places, and phone numbers
  • Send support materials ahead
  • Say your name whenever you speak
  • Use the name of the person you're addressing
  • Leave the food behind
  • Have a networked computer handy
  • Consider using a scribe at every site
  • Follow the "anchor handoff" protocol
  • Speak slowly
  • If your site is just listening, mute the phone
  • Mute your cell phone
  • Mute your speakerphone
  • If you use the hold button, mute the music
  • Get teleconference training

For dispersed teams

  • Use Zulu time in meeting announcements and reminders
  • Rotate the meeting site
  • Choose site names carefully
  • Distribute the travel
  • Rotate the location of the chair or facilitator
  • Beware excessive focus on travel costs

Keep and distribute minutes

  • Circulate minutes within a day
  • Circulate minutes to stakeholders
  • Use the attendance list to thank participants
  • Use a flipchart for minutes
  • Capture the meaning, not the words
  • Look in the rear-view mirror

Follow through

  • Reach a conclusion on each agenda item
  • Track action items
  • Have an owner for each action item
  • Set a date for each action item
  • Use a three-state status system for action items
  • Treat late action items specially
  • Track open issues
  • Capture the parking lot
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