Need productivity? Skip meetings

I’ve been managing a team under significant time pressures to create and rollout training while executing a multi-layered communication plan. We are a small team with big ambitions, working for executives with big expectations.

Getting it all done with quality was going to be a challenge. That’s when I began banning team members from meetings.

Most meetings waste time hand over fist. Yes, some meetings are necessary to get things done in groups, but there is always the requisite discussion before decisions are made and directions decided.

Rather than repeat the same tips you’ve heard forever to make meetings efficient, I want to suggest just two tactics likely to be new to you.

1. Crank up the meeting mode. To prevent people from sucking up all of the time with long explanations punctuated by unnecessary stories from five years ago, I call out the mode of facilitation:

  • Fair warning: “I will be using active facilitation to keep us on task. That means I will cut you off if needed to keep us on track.”
  • If you are not leading the meeting: “Can we agree to challenge each other if topics are getting off track so we use everyone’s time effectively?”
  • Option for Canadians: “I’m going to apologize now for all of the times I will cut you off in this meeting, in the spirit of keeping us on track. That was your one apology. Let’s begin.”

I’ve never had a group respond poorly to this. Most people are relieved that finally someone is going to rein in the guy who always wants the last word.

2. Begin the ban. I forbade team members from attending meetings that I was attending or leading. I can push for decisions faster and fill them in on the results afterwards. There is no need to invite those that need to be informed. That’s what meeting notes are for. Sixty minutes were reduced to five for them.

After banishing my team from meetings, productivity jumped. We cut work estimates by half and delivered the quality our execs were expecting.

Change work – like any other work – requires time to focus. Don’t let meetings get in the way of results.

Thoughtfully yours,
Jeff Skipper