The Productive 30-Minute Meeting
A half hour meeting that accomplishes exactly what you need is feasible. But it requires smart (not time-consuming) planning; discipline during the meeting; and a laser focus on achieving results (getting what you need in 30 minutes).
The information that follows applies to in-person meetings of 10 people or less, most of it applies to virtual meetings as well (but not to extraordinary meetings called for extraordinary purposes).
A good reason to call a meeting is any time an issue or project calls for fast-paced roundtable input or you want to gauge reactions. More specifically, four good reasons to call a meeting include:
1. To define and/or solve problems
2. To make a decision or gauge reaction to a decision already made.
3. To disseminate or collect verbal information
4. To accomplish tasks
The worst reason to call a meeting is that you want the group to accomplish something that you or someone else could have easily accomplished another way. To avoid this, draft the agenda and review each item before you schedule the meeting.
The biggest timesaver is advance planning and the best way to communicate efficiency to the participants ahead of time is with a straightforward, but thorough agenda that includes a clear purpose. If you don’t have a strong enough purpose for a meeting, you can never do enough planning to compensate. If you’re sure you have a purpose, here’s where to start.
Three kinds of meetings
1. Participatory – where participants are encouraged to share opinions and insight
2. Informational – where the facilitator conveys information
3. Combination – the facilitator first conveys information and then opens the meeting for discussion.
Bear in mind that the goals of a purely informational meeting can often be accomplished in a more time-efficient way, for example through written communications. If it’s going to be a participatory meeting, decide on the tone of the discussion ahead of time and note it on the agenda. The choices are these:
· Possibilities – encouraging creativity and generating ideas
· Opportunities – narrowing down a field of options
· Action – making a decision and committing to action.
Only invite people who have a stake in the outcome, have something to add to the discussion, or must be invited because of protocol. It’s better to approach the uninvited and offended ahead of time with your reasons, than have the discussion run off track.
Once you’ve decided on the participants, send each an email with the date, time, and a brief description of the purpose and goal. Let them know that a complete agenda will follow shortly. Expect an RSVP and specify the timeframe to respond. For example, Please RSVP by 4:00 tomorrow (Tuesday). If they don’t RSVP by then, send the same email again and ask for confirmation that they received it. If you need certain participants to prepare something ahead of time, let them know once they’ve confirmed.
Then email the agenda along with attachments (keep each piece to one page) and ask participants to read everything ahead of time. Prepare print copies of the agenda and all attachments to distribute at the meeting.
The one-page agenda
Limit the agenda to one page even if you have to use a smaller font. Doing this sends a message from the start that you are organized, no nonsense, and plan to keep things moving. In front of each item on the agenda, put the clock time, not minutes allowed. For example, if the meeting starts at 9:30 and the first item will take 10 minutes, put “9:30 – 9:40”, not “10 minutes.” This is another indicator to participants that they need to arrive on time and that you’re serious about keeping the meeting short and concise.
Schedule the moderately intense items first before the more routine items. Anything that’s potentially volatile and not open for discussion should be last on the agenda. Doing this will end the meeting on a sour note, but it won’t poison the whole meeting.
Expect that everything will run smoothly, but be prepared to handle logjams. Assuming that everyone is civil, here are the four primary time-wasters:
· The discussion is vague, scattered, and frequently off topic
· One unimportant aspect gets discussed to death
· One person dominates the conversation.
· Participants defensively focus on their own personal agendas
Keep a sharp eye out for signs that any of these four things are happening and get the discussion back on track. One of the trickiest situations is limiting comments. Unfortunately, there is no good way to cut someone off. Whatever you do will involve interrupting. But if you tell everyone at the beginning of the meeting that comments are limited to one minute, they'll be less likely to run on. One minute is plenty of time for a constructive comment, but not enough time for a rambling anecdote or a string of disconnected observations – which is exactly the point. If you don’t give people time to argue or get off track, they won’t.
Accomplish what you need
As the meeting ends, there are four ways to arrive at decisions:
1. The facilitator makes the call
2. Majority vote – for groups where members have entrenched positions
3. Informal consensus – for small groups where most members are amenable to compromise
4. Delegation – selected group members decide
After making a decision, read the highlights of the meeting notes to the group and ask if anyone has anything to add. If there is follow-up action, be sure that participants know what they need to do and when it needs to be done. Then reiterate tasks and deadlines in an email.
If you have a clear purpose for another meeting and need to schedule one, this is the time to do it. If it looks like the meeting is going to run long, wrap it up without a decision. Then assess what still needs to be done before scheduling another meeting. You may find that you can accomplish it another way
Great planning and productive discussion are the difference between a 30-minute meeting and a 90-minute meeting. As the facilitator, the 60-minute difference is you.
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