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Stop Wasting Time In Meetings!


by Mike Richardson, author of “Wheel$pin: The Agile Executive’s Manifesto

Technology is constantly speeding up the pace of business: Decisions once delayed for weeks are now made in seconds thanks to internet communication. Computer analytics puts real-time market information at our fingertips.  Transactions can occur anywhere, any time.

Logic holds that businesses that can’t keep up will be left behind.

Just to keep pace, businesses must develop organizational agility, and it’s absolutely critical if they want to do more than just survive. Organizational agility is being able to move quickly and decisively, and one of the biggest obstacles is unproductive, time-wasting meetings. They start late, run long, and don’t achieve much – but meetings are the backbone of an agile business.

Here are some tips for developing agile meetings with traction:

Map your meeting.

Create a standing agenda and a master spreadsheet with tabs relevant to each agenda item with the expected inputs, throughputs and outputs. That way, the meetings are easy for the chairman to run because everything is crystal clear.

Set the mood.

Set the tone for the energy level by playing a video or music. You can tell a story, read a quotation, or be unpredictable and create a surprise factor.

Spark creativity.

Frame the purpose of the meeting as a question: How do we best …? Questions get the human brain thinking more quickly.

Document the action live.

Instead of taking notes, editing them and distributing them afterward, save time by capturing everything electronically in real time. You can project action items for all to see during the meeting, and keep them in a master spreadsheet hosted on your server for easy access by all.

Time-box everything.

Meetings should last 45 minutes, from 5 after the hour to 10 minutes to the hour. Allot time for each agenda item and especially for presentations. Get people used to the fact that you will guillotine anything which runs over.When you challenge people to figure out how to get things done in the time allotted, you will be amazed at how they can.

Leverage the wall-space.

Wall space is one of the most underutilized assets in your business.  Have the standing agenda on the wall, creative problem-solving frameworks, your core values, key elements of your strategic plan, inspirational quotations, etc., all in a format large enough for you to refer to during the meeting.

Generate input.

Have everyone take a minute to write down an idea relevant to the agenda item. Go around the table and allow each person to share his or her idea, or break into pairs or triads to discuss the ideas and report back. (Remember to allot time for each step of the process.)

Get fast consensus.

Once the options are on the table, facilitate the group toward fast decisions with statements and questions like: “I’m leaning toward this …”; “Does anyone have a violent objection to that … ?”; “Can everyone get behind that?”; and then move them into fast action: “How would we best do that?”

Agility is the ability to be constantly looking for opportunities to move forward toward goals while planning for problems. It’s being able to capitalize on fleeting opportunities, rebound from problems and make decisions on the turn of a dime. That doesn’t happen in businesses where executives and workers are bogged down by burdensome systems, procedures and time-wasting meetings stuck in minutiae. Instead of shooting forward when they press on the gas, they go into a futile wheel$pin.

Creating agile meetings is one big step toward creating an agile organization which is in traction.


Mike Richardson is president of Sherpa Alliance Inc., a management support business and a chair with Vistage International, a global collaborative of CEOs. He holds an MBA from London Business School and is an adjunct faculty member at the University of San Diego Business School. A former Shell Oil petroleum engineer and board member overseeing three automobile dealerships, he led the Aerospace Division of  Spirent PLC in Britain.