How I shortened my official meeting time by half

Generally how long are your official meetings and are they productive?

Over the years, across organisations, I have observed meetings tend to be planned for an hour or sometimes for two hours. The more complex or larger the audience, the longer the meeting time

Why do you think meetings have to be an hour or two? What is the magic behind this number? Are we saying that in a 45 minute meeting we will not be able to make a decision but in the next 15 minutes, serendipitously we will be able to take that decision?

From this year, I have been trying to shorten the meetings which I call for. So if I had a 60 minutes meeting, I shortened it to 45 minutes or to a 30 minutes meeting; and a two hour meeting to 60 minutes

I have been generally successful, however to achieve this, I had to do the following

1. Lots and lots of pre-meeting work

To get your work done efficiently in the meeting, you need to do a lot of pre-meeting work. If the meeting is going to be a decision making meeting, then you would need to back channel and write a document on the different options & each of its Pro’s & Cons and provide a recommendation

If the meeting is going to be on obtaining information and getting consensus from stakeholders, then you would need to have proper templates and dashboards, where the stakeholders can see the summary and get alignment. You may also need to start collection of information before the meeting, so that the meeting is limited to confirmation from the data owner and drive consensus from the stakeholders

If the meeting is for brainstorming, then you need to pick a specific framework, make the rules of engagement clear and have mechanisms where thoughts can be collated for everyone’s visibility

To put it simply, even before the meeting, as an organiser, you should have visualised the “meeting-to-be”

2. Question if you need all members at all times

Here you need to ask yourself on what contribution is expected from each of the invitees and whether they need to be available throughout the meeting. For example, if it is a meeting where the status is being checked of different projects’, you could as well sequencing it, with only those members who need to know the status of all the programs have to stay through the entire duration of the meeting. The rest can follow a time slot and sign in and sign out as needed

3. Call out the agenda clearly

Calling out the agenda clearly with a CTA on what is expected from a person or a group has a two pronged benefit. Firstly, it will give you the clarity as the organiser on what you want to accomplish, secondly you are giving an opportunity for the invitees to come prepared for the meeting

4. Circulate a pre-read

This is linked to point 3, where you are trying to give the invitees an opportunity to come prepared for the meeting. While this is a good practice, for certain type of meetings, you may want the invitees to come well prepared. For eg, if it is a decision making meeting, you would want the invitees to have sufficient time to muse over their thoughts or if it is a status meeting with a large audience where everyone is expected to attend, it makes sense for the invitees to go over the status and have questions ready, so that the discussion is limited to those questions only and not a boring monologue

To achieve this, you will need to do a lot of back channel work as mentioned in point 1

5. Start with the objective

At the start of the meeting, assume the invitees have forgotten what the meeting is about despite your back channel work, therefore explain the objective. Give people some time for the pre-read and then start the meeting. If someone deviates from the original topic, firmly bring back the discussion on track and mention that the out of topic issue could be discussed later

These are the five steps which I had used to cut down my meeting time. If you have any suggestions, do comment. You can check out my other blogs here