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Can You Hold Successful Meetings in 30 Minutes or Less?

Can You Hold Successful Meetings in 30 Minutes or Less?

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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

Have you ever heard your employees grumble about the types and length of the meetings they attend?

Carson Tate, the founder of Working Simply, a management consulting firm in Charlotte, N.C., believes the meeting culture that dominates corporate America today is unsustainable and unproductive.

“How many meetings did you attend last week that didn’t even have an agenda? How many resulted in a new idea? And at how many sessions did you think, ‘Why am I even here?’” Tate asks.

Survey Shows Employees Hate Meetings for Various Reasons

According to an article in Business News Daily, a survey by GiveMore.com (now known as InspireYourPeople.com) shows that employees hate meetings because they are boring, too long and redundant.

Additional annoyances cited in this study included:

  • Having meetings just to have meetings.
  • Unprepared leaders losing control by allowing attendees to dominate conversations and get them off track.
  • Don’t start on time, stay on track or finish on time.
  • There are no specific action items or takeaway points.
  • There is no clear purpose or objective.
  • They are not inspiring or motivating.
  • They are not organized, and there is no agenda.
  • The need to repeat information for late arrivals.
  • A weak presenter who is unprepared, talks in a monotone or is overly redundant.
  • They are boring and provide no news or interest.

Most meetings can be held in 60 minutes or less. My personal preference is 30 minutes because some topics can be conveyed by other means, such as emails, webpages, phone or one-on-one conversations. There are times that we are summoned to meetings without being adequately prepared, which is not a good use of our time.

As Tate says, time is a commodity. And time spent in a meeting should generate a return on investment. But how often do we think about our time that way and set expectations for meetings to produce real gains?

Why Should We Limit the Length of Meetings?

In 2011, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign conducted a study which showed that brief mental breaks from time-consuming tasks (like meetings) improve performance. The leader of the study, psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, called the phenomenon of mental exhaustion and losing focus during long and uninterrupted tasks “vigilance decrement.”

Can We Get Meetings Down to Five Minutes?

Some readers will ask, “What can you get done in five minutes?” and “Is it a good use of employee time?” My response is, “Yes, it can be a good use of time if you PLAN the meeting properly.”

Yet some of us are still holding on to an old process. We are stuck because we don’t know what to replace that process with.

If I had the opportunity to hold a five-minute meeting, I would:

  • Send relevant documents to the participants for review before the meeting.
  • Open an online chat room for participants to pose questions or provide comments before the meeting (leaving the chat room open so people have the opportunity to collect their thoughts).
  • Use the five-minute face-to-face (in person or online) approach to get the human touch and to clarify any issues that could not be resolved in the chat room.

Even if your meeting runs over five minutes, it probably will be shorter than the length of your usual meeting.

Alternate Approaches to Long Meetings

There are others in the time management field who are attempting to “focus” business meetings.

Aaron Shapiro, chief executive of Huge Inc., a New York digital agency that employs 1,500 people, has started holding five-minute meetings. Wall Street Journal reporter Sue Shellenbarger reports: “Rather than booking a conference room for 30 minutes, Shapiro ‘makes minor decisions in five-minute huddles with colleagues. When employees ask to meet with him, he conducts deskside ‘drive-bys’ with each one.’”

Shapiro has “declared war on meeting bloat.” Shellenbarger says, “Agile management techniques embraced years ago by tech companies are bringing brief daily check-in meetings to marketing, e-commerce, advertising and other fields.”

She adds, “Long-winded monologues and PowerPoint presentations are not the modes of choice during these meetings. There’s no time for small talk and less tolerance for 30- or 60-minute meetings when five to 15 minutes will do. Participants must learn to distill their ideas and requests to the conference-room equivalent of an elevator pitch.”

So the next time you have a meeting, see if you can get it down to five minutes. I can tolerate someone else’s 60-minute meeting, but mine tend to be 30 minutes. However, one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to get my team meetings down to a short meeting that lasts five to 15 minutes.

Start your management degree at American Public University.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.

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