Productive Meetings

with Dave Kashen

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Meeting hacks

Dave Kashen

Entrepreneur, Startup CEO Coach, Team & Culture Expert

Lessons Learned

Do not treat meetings as a status symbol. Only invite the critical members.

Work expands to fill the time allotted for it. Schedule less time for practical check-ins.

Teams need time for deep critical thinking and discussion. Be clear about when that happens.


Lesson: Productive Meetings with Dave Kashen

Step #8 Efficiency: Meeting hacks

Figuring out who needs to be in the meeting is nuance like everything else. I think one of the key things to think about is if there is a decision to be made, there's two sides to it. Whose input needs to inform that decision either as part of actually making the decision because they have authority over it, or because you need their input in order to make a decision, and can better get that input during the meeting beforehand for whatever reason? And who will be affected by that decision?

Because often teams will be shortsighted about not including the people that are impacted by the decision but don't have authority over it in the discussion. And so you might win by being a little more efficient in the short-term but lose by being way less efficient in the long term because you don't have full buy-in and people aren't aligned around the decision.

So it's interesting because there's a lot of talk about too many people being in meetings. I think that's right. I think that's genuinely true that there are too many people in meetings. And I think that's partly a function of social dynamics of not wanting anyone to feel excluded. So we err on the side of including people, or in some companies meetings with certain people are viewed sort of a status symbol, so people want to be in the meeting just to be in the meeting versus because they actually need to be there to learn something or contribute to the conversation.

But I think there is the other side to talk about as well when you don't include people in the meeting whose input would be vital or who you really need their buy-in and so you want them to be part of the process so that they feel more bought into the decision.

I think also one of the problems with not having any clear agenda or purpose to a meeting, is it’s hard to tell who really needs to be there. So what can happen is you show up at a meeting, and the one decision maker, the one person who you really need there is not there and then you waste the time of these five other people either because they show up and you disband. Or because you still have the meeting anyway and then you have to have again with the other people. I see that happen a lot.

One thing I want to reinforce, I think most common issue in terms of people, invitees to meetings is over inviting. I think it’s largely a social phenomenon. It’s a sense of, “I don't want make anyone feel bad by excluding them or I don't want them to not like me.” I think the more we can get over that and create explicit agreement around or intentionality around including only certain people.

Or some committees will use RACI, where there is the responsibly person. There's the accountable person. There's people that need to be informed. So if you can have clarity around these people need to be informed about this but don't actually need to be there and have a process to make sure they that are informed, that could be a really useful way to limit the number of people in the meeting without undermining when needs to happen in terms of communication.

I think just being really thoughtful about how expensive it is. People time is increasingly their most precious, scarce commodity both for the individual and as an organization. Your people's time is your most scarce resource, so really being thoughtful about when to call a meeting and who to include is so fundamental to operating efficiently.

It's really interesting a lot of companies you can't spend more, I read this somewhere it's not my idea, but you can't spend more than say $1,000 without getting budget approval. But you can plan a $100,000 meeting with no approval from anyone through just a couple clicks on your calendar. I think that's really interesting to think about what dynamic that creates and just how much waste there is.

The estimates we've seen are somewhere between 12 million and 25 million meetings a day in the US and by most estimates, figure four people per meeting, that's about 50 million to 100 million hours a day just in the US of time in meetings. And by most estimates half of that time is wasted. We’re talking about $300 billion in lost salary cost. Forgetting about all the opportunity cost or productive time people could be otherwise spending either by having more effective meetings or by not being in those meetings. I mean it's staggering. It's a huge problem.

A few other things about to think about in terms to meetings. One is how much time you allocate. There's Parkinson's law where work expands to fill the time allotted for it. You plan a 30 minute meeting, lo and behold it takes 30 minutes to have the discussion you’re having. You plan a 60 minute, lo and behold it takes 60 minutes.

I believe Google did something where they have meetings be either 20 minutes or 50 minutes. One, compress it a little bit to force it to be more succinct and two, bake in the reality that it takes time to kind of compose yourself, finish your thoughts, conclude the meeting and get to the next meeting. If you have every meeting start and end right on the hour, no wonder people show up late which is another huge problem with meetings is it wastes people's time just because 50% of the people are there, the other half trickle in five minutes, ten minutes late. Sometimes you'll start over, sometimes you won't, but it just creates huge inefficiencies.

For both that reason just makes it more likely for people to be able to get to meetings on time but also just to force compression, again, with an eye toward making sure you're not trying to cover more material and trying to make decisions that require longer discussions than you're allotting. Shrinking down the meeting time can be really useful.

Some of the companies that report having the most productive meetings, they have 20 minute meetings. It's like get in, get out. And I think we need to be careful with that because there's a space for strategy and deep thought and deep collaboration, and I think we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Meetings can be a really powerful and useful tool when done well, and sometimes a two-day offsite is the most powerful inflection point in a company's life, and that's a two-day meeting.

When you tell someone you're going to have a two-day meeting, most people have a mild heart attack. Sometimes that can be really powerful. But for these day-to-day, practical check-ins, often they can be a lot shorter.

There's a lot of articles about stand up. You want to make meetings more efficient, force people to stand up. I think there's a place for that. Again, if there are times when it's really just a quick check-in and snappy, a chance for people, like a scrum or daily stand-up for people just to report out, let others know what's blocking them. I think standing up can be very useful. I don't think it's appropriate for every meeting.

But interesting to note, that just those subtle dynamics, that when you're standing up you're incentivized to be a lot more productive and efficient than when you're just kind of sitting down and comfortable, and you're sitting in a room of peers. It can be sort of a trap to be less efficient and focused.

I think space matters too. I visited Steelcase just recently in Grand Rapids. It sort of opened up my eyes like it hadn't before to sort of the power of space. And I liked the way they framed it, that space can either be an anchor or a lever. So it's not that the space itself is going to determine the culture or the effectiveness or the meeting. But a dingy, dark space can affect the mood versus a bright, light space or having the right configuration of chairs. Even where people sit can matter, the way people sit, people being on the same side of the table versus opposing sides.

Just being thoughtful about these things and being more intentional and conscious I think can be really useful. Having the right places to make notes and record things: a white board, flip charts. All these kind of things are just useful to think about and can make a difference.

I mentioned white board and flip charts, I think one powerful tool is having a group shared memory during the meeting. As a facilitator I'll often use a flip chart or a white board, and it's so powerful when you have this shared memory that's forming during the meeting. It helps keep people on the same page. It lets them know that they're heard. And it just sparks kind of ideas.

You might not think of something right away but then you're staring at something that someone said 20 minutes earlier and something pops for you. Whereas without that group shared memory you wouldn't have that experience. So we're building that virtually and digitally. So whether you use that one on your computer or one in the physical space, I think that's a really powerful tool.

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