5 Practical Tips: Conducting Efficient Meetings

The role of meetings in teams and organizations is undeniable. The cost of hosting a meeting goes beyond the explicit expenses like participants’ hourly wages; there are also numerous opportunity costs that are not easily quantifiable.

An unproductive meeting that fails to address the intended objectives not only wastes time and money but also drains the energy of attendees and those involved in providing assistance.

Today, I will share 5 meeting practices that can help you think flexibly and ensure meeting efficiency.

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01-Duration Setting:Short and focused meetings are recommended.

According to Parkinson’s Law, work expands to fill the time available for its completion. When faced with a task, having more time can actually decrease the sense of urgency and motivation to fully engage.

Therefore, to ensure the effectiveness of meetings, it is necessary to shorten their duration.

  1. Shorter time creates a sense of urgency and promotes focus.

Set a reasonable time limit for the meeting, and then try to shorten it by 5% to 10%. A slight sense of urgency often leads to better meeting outcomes.

For example, if a regular meeting usually lasts 60 minutes, try shortening it to 50 minutes. A 30-minute meeting can be shortened to 25 minutes. This will effectively alleviate the negative effects of Parkinson’s Law.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law in psychology describes the relationship between urgency and performance as an inverted “U” curve.

By slightly shortening the meeting duration, you can also create more buffer time for the next meeting, reducing the occurrence of lateness and the frustration it may cause for punctual attendees.

2.Consider “quick meetings” and “huddle meetings.”

Quick meetings of 10 or 15 minutes are common in high-risk work environments such as the military, emergency response units (e.g., fire departments), and hospitals.

  • Marissa Mayer, former Google executive and current CEO of Yahoo, was known for her short meetings. She often inserted 10-minute meetings into her schedule, allowing her to respond more efficiently to employee needs and keep the flow of plans and ideas uninterrupted.

Huddle meetings are similar to the way team members gather and cheer each other on in sports. They can be spontaneous or pre-organized and can take place before or after an event.

RSC Bio Solutions has implemented huddle meetings. During these meetings, the team comes together to discuss strategies, have conversations, provide supervision, motivate each other, or celebrate achievements.

From Apple to Dell, Zappos, The Ritz-Carlton, and First Capital, huddle meetings have been widely adopted across various organizations. Even the White House used this meeting format during Obama’s presidency.

A typical business huddle meeting has the following characteristics:

  • Duration of 10 or 15 minutes
  • Held at the same time every day (or every other day)
  • Starts and ends on time
  • Held in a fixed location
  • Attendees are fixed
  • Attendance is mandatory, with remote participation allowed if necessary
  • Standing meetings if possible
  • Questions and answers should be kept concise

Huddle meetings typically include discussions on completed work and major achievements, next steps, key metrics, and challenges.

However, it is important to note that the purpose of huddle meetings is to enhance cohesion and communication, rather than simply reporting on work progress.

02-Agenda Planning for Effective Meetings: Caring about Participants’ Experience

Preparing an efficient meeting agenda is the responsibility of the meeting leader, as you need to be accountable for the time and experience of all participants.

Therefore, it is important to invest enough effort in preparing the agenda before the meeting.

  1. How to choose the topics to be discussed in the meeting?

Former Intel CEO Andy Grove once said, “The most important criterion for deciding whether to discuss a topic or not is whether it bothers your subordinates.”

When employees are truly encouraged to share ideas and creativity, and when their voices are genuinely valued, they tend to have a stronger sense of ownership and identification with the team and organization, and they will be more actively engaged in the meeting.

How to do it?

  • 3 to 5 days before the meeting, you can send emails or have one-on-one conversations to ask other participants about the topics they would like to discuss. For online meeting, you can use Huddles.app, there are many one-on-one meeting templates that you can choose.
  • If a suggested topic is not suitable for adoption in the upcoming meeting, then:Address the issue with the employees outside the meeting.Include the topic in future meetings. Provide feedback regardless of the decision.
  • Discard topics that are not essential and relevant only to a small number of participants, and address them outside the meeting.

2.Which topics should be discussed first and which should be discussed later?

Important topics should be discussed first, while less important topics should be discussed later. However, it should not be automatically assumed that topics with immediate impact are more important than those with long-term impact.

Here are some guidelines to help you make decisions about the order of agenda items:

First, ensure that the specific items on your agenda are closely related to each other.

Second, if the importance of all items is relatively similar, it is recommended to prioritize agenda items suggested by employees. This allows participants to feel a stronger sense of empowerment, inclusiveness, and ownership in the meeting.

Third, you can start the meeting with a warm-up activity, such as sharing brief updates or providing a quick recap of the previous meeting. This not only prevents the negative effects of latecomers but also increases participant engagement. The warm-up activity should not exceed 15% of the total meeting time.

Ending the meeting is also crucial:

Conclude the meeting with a few minutes of summary to recap the key points discussed, clarify action items, and record future agenda items.

You can end the meeting with a Q&A session, for example, by saying, “Before we wrap up the meeting, I can answer five questions from the participants.”

3.Is it necessary to allocate time for each agenda item?

If one or more of the following statements are true, it is worth considering allocating time for each agenda item:

  • Are participants inclined to get caught up in details?
  • Do participants tend to go off-topic?
  • Does your meeting always stay on schedule?
  • Have you had success using a time-scheduled agenda in previous meetings?
  • Do you want to have “flow meetings” for certain topics where specific individuals only attend at specific times?
  • Are there specific topics that require extra attention from participants?

If it is necessary to allocate time, it is recommended to share the time allocation with other participants before the meeting and pay attention to their feedback.

4.Establishing “Accountable Individuals”

Meeting leaders can strategically delegate leadership to others by assigning specific agenda items to “Accountable Individuals.”

This approach has become the standard meeting model at Apple. Apple pioneered the concept of “DRI,” which stands for “Directly Responsible Individual.” The DRI openly takes ownership of agenda items and is responsible for driving related work forward.

The benefits of the DRI system include:

  • Engaging more people in the meeting process.
  • Providing an opportunity to enhance meeting leadership skills.
  • Inspiring creativity by incorporating input from a broader range of individuals.

03-Setting the size of the meeting

It is advisable to have a small number of participants.

Here are some decision criteria for setting the size of the meeting.

  1. Select participants based on meeting objectives

When determining the participants, meeting leaders should start with the meeting objectives. For each meeting objective, leaders should consider the following questions. While these questions help in selecting relevant and necessary meeting members, they may still result in an excessive number of participants.

Who possesses the information and knowledge to address a particular issue?

Who are the key decision-makers and important stakeholders regarding this issue?

Who needs to be informed about the meeting discussions?

Who will be responsible for implementing the meeting decisions or working on related issues?

  1. This is how well-known companies do it

Apple has always adhered to Steve Jobs’ principle of avoiding large meetings.

Google has always advocated for meetings with no more than 10 participants.

Amazon follows the so-called “two-pizza rule” – a meeting should be small enough to be fed by two pizzas.

Drawing from more successful business cases, here are some specific suggestions:

The “8-18-1800” rule: For problem-solving or decision-making, a maximum of 8 people is recommended. For brainstorming, a maximum of 18 people is ideal. If it is about informing a large group of employees, 1800 people is acceptable.

For decision-making and problem-solving, a maximum of 7 people is recommended.

If the leader has excellent coordination skills, a group of 8 to 12 people is suitable.

For idea generation, agenda setting, and team bonding, it is best not to exceed 15 people.

In conclusion, meeting leaders should strive to streamline the size of the meeting while ensuring the achievement of objectives.

  1. How to prevent uninvited members from feeling excluded?

To be honest, we often complain about having too many meetings, but at the same time, we enjoy being invited to them. On the other hand, not being invited can make members of an organization feel excluded, and if this feeling is allowed to fester, it can negatively impact the normal course of work. How can we minimize the number of people attending a meeting while still not hurting the feelings of those who are not invited?

Here are some suggested solutions:

  1. Divide agenda items: Divide a large and broad meeting into two smaller and shorter meetings. This allows you to maintain control over the meeting size.
  2. “Fluid meetings”: Specific individuals only attend at specific times. This maintains inclusivity while controlling the number of participants.
  3. Seek input from uninvited individuals: Before the meeting, reach out to individuals who were not invited but have valuable insights on the topics being discussed. This increases their sense of involvement.
  4. Distribute meeting minutes: Share the meeting minutes with those who were not invited. This keeps them informed about the discussions and decisions made during the meeting.
  5. “Representative speaking”: Designate a representative who meets with other relevant individuals before the meeting and conveys the meeting information to them afterwards. Continuously seek their input and thoughts.

04-Dynamically Arrange Seating Arrangements According to Actual Needs

The seating arrangement has a significant impact on meeting effectiveness, but that doesn’t mean we have to rigidly adhere to conventional practices.

  1. Understand the actual effects of different seating positions and arrange seating accordingly based on different circumstances.

The effects of different seating positions can be illustrated using the diagram:

A and F, the positions at the ends of the long table, are advantageous for speaking and are typically reserved for leaders. If they are knowledgeable and have many relevant ideas, it is suitable for them to sit here. However, if they lack ideas, this arrangement can decrease meeting effectiveness.

C and D, adjacent seats, are less likely to generate conflicts and may even form alliances. If their viewpoints align, it is fine, but if there are disagreements, sitting next to each other hinders the expression of those differences.

The position of J is suitable for individuals who won’t be actively involved in the majority of the meeting, especially when A is the leader. However, if J’s input is crucial, this arrangement significantly hampers meeting effectiveness.

Seating arrangements should be dynamic based on the different meeting content and the varying impact of members on different topics. This requires meeting leaders to adequately prepare before the meeting.

2.Try “Walking Meetings” and “Stand-up Meetings”

① Walking Meetings

Steve Jobs mentioned in his biography that he liked to use long walks as an opportunity for communication. Other executives who have adopted and advocated walking meetings include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, and former US President Barack Obama.

Walking meetings are the primary meeting format used by LinkedIn. At their California headquarters, people walk around the building while having a 20 to 25-minute meeting.

Jack Groppel, Vice President of Johnson & Johnson, pointed out, “Our research shows that after the 90th day [of implementing walking meetings], people feel more energized, more focused, and their willingness to participate increases.”

Sik Essick, President of Western Union, stated, “During walks, people are relaxed, able to have genuine conversations, and can get to the point more quickly.”

Practical considerations for implementation are as follows:

  • Limit the number of participants to fewer than 4 people.
  • Not suitable for meetings that require a large amount of supplementary materials or extensive note-taking.
  • Have a more thoughtful agenda.
  • Inform participants in advance so they can wear suitable walking shoes.
  • Preferably conduct walks outdoors, plan a relatively quiet route, which can be circular or have a specific destination.

② Stand-up Meetings

Research shows that sitting meetings take 34% more time than stand-up meetings. Stand-up meetings have better collaborative effects, less dominance of conversation, and a greater willingness to pay attention to others’ viewpoints, while demonstrating a higher level of engagement.

Pay attention to the meeting duration and try to keep it around 15 minutes to avoid fatigue.

05-Incorporating Silent Sessions

Sometimes, it can be highly beneficial for the progress of a meeting if participants maintain silence during certain periods.

However, encouraging participants to share their thoughts, feedback, and critiques can be challenging for a couple of reasons:

  • Your comments put pressure on me (e.g., if strong agreement has already been expressed), and I decide not to express my own views.
  • By the time you finish speaking, I have forgotten what I wanted to say (a common occurrence, isn’t it?).
  • Our viewpoints seem similar, so I feel there’s no need for me to speak up (but what are the subtle differences?).

In reality, many people find it difficult to freely express themselves without fear of embarrassment.

So, how can we address these issues with “silence”?

  1. Brainwriting

This involves using a series of techniques to facilitate and address various viewpoints in a silent manner.

The core idea is to have participants write down their thoughts anonymously on paper during the meeting. Participants should write simultaneously, maintaining silence and avoiding external influences on their own viewpoints.

For example, participants gather together, each with a specific question, and anonymously write concise responses on paper. If there are 10 participants and each writes down 3 key points for improving interdepartmental communication efficiency, you will have more than 10 freely expressed viewpoints.

To further expand on this, once all the viewpoints have been collected, they can be categorized into several themes based on their content. Participants can then:

  • Engage in on-site discussions about these categorized themes.
  • Vote on the importance of these themes (both openly and anonymously) to identify the most critical ones that need to be discussed first.
  • Rethink the identified themes and potentially discover the real focal points.

Depending on the specific circumstances, there can be various ways to implement this approach. So, feel free to explore different possibilities.

In summary, utilizing written discussions instead of oral discussions reduces the risk of valuable viewpoints being overlooked and effectively promotes participation. With pen and paper in front of them, no one can passively observe without contributing.

The purpose of a meeting is to seek more and better viewpoints, richer feedback, and insightful critiques to facilitate effective collaboration in solving the targeted issues.

2.Silent Reading

In traditional organizational meetings, formal presentations are often followed by discussions and comments. However, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos questions the value of this traditional approach. He believes that people should be able to make their own judgments based on their own perspectives, free from the influence of presentation formats, speaker personalities and rhetoric, or potential group pressures. This effect can be achieved through silent reading.

Here’s how Amazon does it:

  • Ideas, viewpoints, and proposals must be written down in a complete and precise report format before the meeting (but not too lengthy), which is then distributed to the participants during the meeting.
  • After the meeting starts, participants can silently read the materials on their own (without asking questions). This usually takes about 10 to 30 minutes of the meeting time. Once everyone has finished reading, the discussion begins.

The benefits of this approach are as follows:

  • This step puts everyone on the same starting line.
  • Compared to watching presentations and listening to oral introductions, silent reading allows for faster absorption of information, provides more detailed viewpoints through written materials, and often leads to more in-depth discussions.
  • Participants can revisit any part of the materials at any time, facilitating in-depth exploration and debates on the viewpoints.
  • The discussion usually results in one of the following: refuting the written content, emphasizing concerns, proposing modifications to the written materials and initiating another meeting, or acknowledging the written materials, plans, schedules, and subsequent work, thereby enhancing meeting efficiency.

Conclusion

These are the five principles of effective meetings.

Organizing meetings based on these principles not only helps solve business problems more efficiently but also promotes positive interpersonal relationships within the organization.

Leaders who are skilled in conducting “scientific meetings” will benefit from better career development and personal achievements in each efficient meeting, as they are adept at communicating with others, building relationships, and fully exploring the potential of others, enabling the team to achieve more.

On the contrary, failing to adhere to these principles not only hinders overall team efficiency but also leads to personal setbacks in the workplace.


Author: Stephen G. Rogelberg

Professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

His research findings have been widely applied in the fields of organizational management and leadership development,and has significant implications for improving meeting efficiency and team collaboration.

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