Meeting Optimization: Have Better Meetings in Less Time [Free Exercise]

September 23, 2021

Someone looking at the calendar on their phone

When done right, meetings can be both valuable and energizing. The problem, however, is that they're often poorly managed with no real structure. Or worse, they're completely unnecessary. 

Which is then incredibly draining for everyone involved. Especially given just how much time employees spend in these meetings, not to mention the impact it has on their productivity, morale, and general wellbeing.

For this reason, your teams should be regularly reviewing their meetings and deciding whether or not they're fit for purpose. 

How?

With our meeting optimization exercise.

This exercise can (and should) be used by the teams across your organization, in order to make efficient and effective use of everyone's time. It's also a great way to ensure that managers are reducing the amount of time their teams spend in meetings, without compromising on the meeting's quality. 

Meeting optimization exercise download

What's needed for this exercise?

When establishing a team’s operating rhythm,  it’s important to remember that different types of meetings require different approaches.

  • Information sharing meetings are designed to keep everyone on the same page. They should be quick updates (around 30 minutes in length) and easy to absorb. They should also occur on a relatively frequent basis. Remember, they are not decision-making meetings.

  • Problem solving meetings help get team members aligned on progress towards team goal accomplishment, and the actions needed to improve performance. They are also used to identify problems and come up with solutions. These meetings will typically benefit from structure. 

  • Decision making meetings. In these meetings, the information presented is critical, and pre-work is often advisable. 

This exercise is an example of a problem solving meeting, with the purpose being to brainstorm ways to reduce the time and increase the quality of your meetings.

How does it work?

Managers should start by booking a meeting with their team. They’ll need roughly an hour. In this meeting they'll reflect on the different types of meetings they have, and discuss ways in which they could be improved.

This meeting can also be used to discuss the meeting norms (or ground rules) that will help make these team meetings more effective and impactful.

1. Set the scene

Managers should start by explaining the purpose of this meeting to their team members. Ultimately, it’s to establish an agreed upon set of rules governing team meetings, and help to determine the right meeting cadence going forward.

2. List out your current meetings

(Spend approximately five minutes doing this)

Create a post-it note, or a card if you’re using a tool like Saberr, for all of the regular or recurring meetings that take place within the team in a typical week or month.

The team should then add the time cost of the meeting, which can be calculated by multiplying the length of the meeting by the usual number of attendees. For example, if they have a one hour meeting with five people, the time cost will be five hours.

There should ultimately be three things on each card: the name/description of the meeting, the time cost, and the meeting owner (the person who requested it or usually chairs it).

If there is more than one of the same meeting in the same time period, they should be submitted as a single card. For example, if the team has a weekly catch up with five people for half an hour every Monday, then add that as a single card “Monday Standup”. When reviewing weekly meetings, the time cost for this would be 0.5 hours. If the time period being reviewed is monthly, then it will be ~2 hours.

3. Sort your post-its according to meeting type

Next, teams should sort their meetings according to whether the purpose of the meeting is:

Information sharing

Status updates, progress checks, presentations, panel debates, keynotes, and lectures are all examples of information sharing meetings.

The primary goal of these meetings is for speakers to share information with the attendees. This could be information about things such as the status of a project, upcoming changes, new products or techniques, or in-depth knowledge of a domain.

Decision making

Meetings that require team members to come together to either agree on a course of action, or present options to a leader who will make the final call, are known as decision making meetings.

Examples include making a hiring decision or approving/disapproving a design. The main thrust of a decision meeting is twofold:

  1. Which option should you choose and why should you choose it above all others?
  2. Who bears the responsibility of implementing your decision?

Problem solving

A problem-solving or innovation meeting is for one of two things:

  1. Figuring out what caused a specific issue and how it will be fixed
  2. Brainstorming ideas or thinking up creative solutions to challenging problems

These types of meetings usually involve plenty of discussion and may involve information sharing and decision making as elements.

4. Calculate where you spend your time

The total time cost for each meeting category should then be added up, so that the team can quickly evaluate how much time is being spent sharing information, compared to problem solving or decision making.

It may be surprising how much time is being spent doing one type of activity.

5. Brainstorm optimizations

Once teams know where they spend their time, they should seek to reduce any wasted time, and improve the remaining time they’re committed to. 

Start with the meeting with the biggest time cost

If it’s an information sharing meeting, ask how the information could be shared better. The goal is clearer information in less time. Ask questions like, “Does it need to be a meeting or can it be replaced by another form of information sharing, for example a document, slack post, email, or video recording?”.

If it’s a decision making meeting, the team should discuss ways in which they could make better decisions in the meeting. The goal is to get to an agreement on the decision faster. Ask questions like, “Do we need to come prepared having done some reading or pre-thought?” And “Who’s ultimately responsible for making the decision?”.

If it’s a problem solving meeting, ask what techniques would increase the team's ability to problem solve in these meetings. The goal is to find a robust solution without getting distracted. They should ask questions such as “Do we need some information sharing to start with so we’re all on the same page?”.

Each team member should spend five minutes making their own notes before sharing with the group for discussion. Regardless of the meeting type, they should consider some of the following meeting norms:

  • Ownership: Does the meeting need a clear owner / chair?
  • Meeting length: Should it be as short as possible, or as long as needed?
  • Attendance: Does everyone need to be there or is it optional?
  • Punctuality: Is it ok to be late?
  • Meeting flow: Does the meeting need to stick to the agenda?
  • Pre-work: Required or not?
  • Devices: Laptops, phones, and other distractions. A no-no, or inevitable?
  • Follow up: Does someone need to summarize and share minutes? 
  • Review: Do you need to establish if it was effective at the end of each meeting?

6. Vote on improvements

Finally, the team should each vote on the ideas that they think will have the most impact. Ideally, limit them to three votes each.

The meeting owners should then use that information to make changes to the meeting, and adjust calendar invites if necessary.

Each meeting owner should also take on board actions to improve their meetings and review on a semi annual basis.

How to improve your team meetings with Saberr

Ineffective meetings not only stifle innovation, but they also cost businesses millions every year. Even worse, they lead to low levels of employee engagement, lack of team cohesion, and low employee retention. 

This is why we've developed a combination of experiences that help teams think differently about meetings. These can be supported by tools and resources that help improve the quality of conversations taking place in these meetings, and ultimately make them more productive.

Saberr specifically helps teams:

Our library of conversation guides can help bring structure to meetings, saving time (and the subsequent costs), while still ensuring meaningful conversations. 

Ultimately, Saberr’s nudge coaching technology and machine learning capabilities help to ensure that your managers are developing as coaches in their day-to-day work, while adopting the habits needed to lead highly effective teams.

Want to learn more? Take a look at this, or alternatively book in for a call with us at a time that suits you.

14 types of team meetings

Want to learn more about the Saberr platform?

Book a demo
Two male team members having a meeting