Reduce Your Time in Meetings by Establishing the Right Set of Meetings

For more than twenty years I’ve been a road warrior.  You can find me most Sunday afternoons boarding a plane to ensure I can be at my client’s site first thing Monday morning.  Friday afternoons I fly home for a fast paced weekend, largely focused on doing the basic chores and errands necessary to keep my life running smoothly and carving out time to spend with my family.

Between engagements I catch up with my friends, take a class, go to the gym, write, and reengage with the professional, civic, and charitable organizations I support.  Since my calendar is completely open when I come off the road, I quickly make commitments with my family for regular dinners each week.  I sign up for a yoga and a Zumba class.  I make plans every Wednesday with a networking group.  Not surprisingly, it typically takes me less than six weeks to find I have over committed, leaving absolutely no time for myself.

This is the same phenomena that happens to most executives.  When we start a new position we have an open calendar.  As we settle into the role we start adding recurring meetings to our calendar.  Just like our personal lives, soon we find our calendars so full we have no time to work on what’s important.

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2002) puts meetings into four categories and offers sound advice about each:

  1. Daily Check-In: This is a 5 – 15 minute stand-up meeting with our direct reports or with project teams.   Each person takes a minute or two to tell their colleagues what they accomplished since they met the previous day and what they intend to accomplish today.           

This process, also called short-interval management, or short interval scheduling, was long the “secret sauce” of management consultants.  They learned that if they had each individual in a team report out what they intended to accomplish each day, there was a higher probability they’d make their commitment.

  1. Staff Meeting: This is a 30-45 minute weekly meeting with our direct reports.  He recommends holding it around a conference table and starting the meeting by going around the room, giving each person 30 seconds to tell what they’re working on or what they’re thinking about.  

He goes on to say, this should be followed by a review of where the team is against their goals and the tactics to ensure those goals are achieved.  I’ve found that developing and reviewing a weekly dashboard to be the most effective method of objectively reviewing progress against goals.

  1. Big Topics/Strategic Topics: These are ad hoc meetings scheduled to work on specific projects or topics.

These are the meetings that drive he cadence of a company’s “grow” or “improve” the business initiatives.  Because these meetings are usually attended by project teams representing multiple functional areas who may have not previously worked together it’s essential that the leader or facilitator be experienced in leading this type of meeting. 

  1. Quarterly Review: This meeting, held quarterly, is a full review of the business performance, strategy, and major initiatives. 

5.  I would add to his set a Weekly Meeting with each direct report.  This meeting should be held at the same time each week.  The agenda should be flexible as the purpose of this meeting is to allow each of your direct reports “face” time with the boss.

Each type of meeting has a different set of requirements and norms   For example, the agenda for a Daily Check-In meeting is usually written on a white board or piece of butcher block paper, agendas for weekly meetings are typically the same week over week, and agendas for Big Topics/Strategic Topics are based upon where the team is in the process.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in early 2017.

Published by Leah Ward-Lee

Leah Ward-Lee, the author of "$1,000 Start-Ups", is a serial micro-entrepreneur. She opened her first business at ten after lobbying for and receiving a shoe shine kit for Christmas. She pulled her wagon through the neighborhood, going door-to-door, offering to shine her neighbor’s shoes for twenty-five cents a pair. Once her wagon was full, she took the shoes home and polished them. Unfortunately that business was short-lived. She hadn’t tagged the shoes and couldn’t remember whose shoes were whose, so her dad went with her to retrace the route until every pair was returned. Since then she’s had businesses developing and teaching college courses, instructing aerobic classes, owning half a plane that was rented to a flight and maintenance school, and renting homes. She’s also owned a consignment store, a gift shop, a gift basket business, a consulting firm, hosted The Executive Toolbox (a weekly radio show), and a publishing company. She also spent twenty years in the US Army, served as the Chief Information and Technical Officer for two major insurance companies, and has a second career as a management consultant. Leah resides in Dallas, TX and on Amelia Island with Sammy and Goliath, her two rescue dogs.


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