Some meetings are just too large!

Some meetings are just too large!

As I noted in Four Types of Meetings, most denizens of the corporate world spend a substantial portion of their day in meetings. Based on the sheer number of people crammed into conference rooms or huddled around speakerphones, most meetings are not only effective and efficient, but well loved. But, a quick poll of office workers (that did not just partake in cookies) would quickly dissuade you of this thought. Most meetings, regardless of type, fail to follow basic meeting logistics and etiquette.  There are four logistics and etiquette categories that need to be dealt with:

  • Direction:  All meetings need to have a clear, measureable goal. All participants must understand the goal and how they will contribute to meeting the goal. In order to support the goal, all meetings need to have an agenda that provides a path that meets the goal. Finally, to support the direction if pre-work or background is required, it should be distributed to all participants at least a day before the meeting (and everyone should be accountable for doing the pre-work).
  • Meeting Size: With some notable exceptions (presentations and lectures), most meetings should be held to a maximum size of 5 to 9 (same as they typical size maximum for Agile teams) in order to ensure that the people in the meeting can interact without having to break into sub-teams.  The best way to constrain the meeting size is to ensure the right people and only the right people are attending.  The right people are those can affect the goal, have a position (are not bystanders) in the outcome of the meeting and can make decisions about committing their resources.  Finally if the meeting is being held to make a decision a single, clear decision maker must be present.
  • Duration: All meetings need to be time boxed.  The time box should rarely exceed one hour. When planning and executing meetings, you should strive to keep them as short as possible. Short meetings with a crisp goal tend to stay on track. One technique for keeping meetings short is removing the chairs. The Wall Street Journal reported that meetings that are held standing up typically take 1/3 less time than similar meetings where chairs were provided.
  • Follow-up: If action items and follow-ups are generated in a meeting each item needs to indicate what must be done and MUST be a assigned a directly responsible individual (DRI) who will be accountable for follow up.

Effective and efficient meetings require planning to ensure that a clear goal is identified before the meeting invitation is sent.  A clear goal not only helps to focus the meeting but it helps to decide who to send invitations. Once the invitation is sent whomever is facilitating the meeting needs to help make sure the right people participate and that “substitutions” meet the criteria needed to participate. Good meetings require work, but given that, meetings are ubiquitous, the work to make meetings effective will pay off in the long run.