Rules to Live By — 3 Requirements to Optimize Your Meetings

By Matt Sitter

There’s no good way to waste your time. Wasting time is just wasting time.” — Helen Mirren

Wasted time in a meeting feels painful. I often hear, “Meetings take me away from my real job.” We are compelled to multi-task during a meeting to at least claw back precious time (and maybe combat a little boredom). To use our time best, meetings can’t be the blunt force instrument they have become. They need to be our best precision tool.

Meetings are expensive.

We spend a lot of time in them (Senior Managers spent 23 hours per week in them).

They are easily the most expensive way to communicate. Time spent on an actual meeting represents only a portion of your investment. Meetings require coordinated schedules, preparation, concentration, and switching costs (stopping what you were productively working on), not to mention the opportunity cost of your time. Even worse, a meeting’s value can decrease based on varying levels of preparation, lack of punctuality (or attendance), unclear objectives, a lack of engagement, or technology challenges. So much can go wrong — so why not just get rid of them?

Meetings can be our most valuable time.

A well-run meeting accomplishes work you can’t do any other way. Meetings should happen because they can actually save time and lead to a more productive overall use of time. Attendance at a meeting is a signal of social commitment from an attendee. Simple presence at a meeting fosters a feeling of team. Also, nowhere else can you create the same density of communication. Only in a face-to-face meeting can you gauge body language, assess tone, and ensure synchronous collaboration. This density of communication enables alignment, buy-in, and identification of roadblocks in a way that no email chain, Slack conversation, or 1-on-1 conversation can. To honor an attendee’s commitment and the cost we are expecting them to bear, all meetings must meet one of three conditions.

3 requirements for meeting content

There are only three valid ways to use time within a meeting and justify its high expense.

1. Transfer timely information — The topic has an immediate impact on attendees’ actions or because of its impact, attendees need to hear information at the same time. This implies the information is relevant and related to organizational priorities.

2. Communicate importance — Because of the high cost of meetings, time spent on a topic must signal its importance. A good litmus test is how the topic relates to the organization’s priorities or objectives.

3. Interact deeply — Given the density of communication, meetings are uniquely suited to coordinate, discuss, level-set on priorities or debate rapidly and intensely.

What now?

If you are a meeting attendee, use these three requirements to drive your and others’ participation in the meeting.

If you are leading a meeting (of any size), work to meet these three requirements. Inevitably, discussions will deviate, but stating and holding attendees accountable to these three requirements can get you back on track. Use your other technology platforms to digitally distribute changes to your priorities. Leverage the technology at your disposal to drive further efficiency.

If you lead an organization, explicitly state these requirements and why they are important. We can’t make more time, but we can make the most of what we have!

Learn more about how CrossLead can help optimize your meetings.