Sick of ineffective meetings? Why you should be reducing your meetings to 25 minutes – and how to do it

25-minute meeting

By Donna George, author of The 25-Minute Meeting: Half the Time, Double the Impact

We need meetings. We need them at work because when they work, they are valuable. Clear actions get set, decisions are made and the whole organisation moves forward.

What we don’t need is for meetings to waste our time, money and resources.

Meetings should be short, sharp and productive. They should help get a job done efficiently and deliver a lot of value in a short period of time.

Too often I have heard people say that they spend all day in meetings, so their evenings – which they should be spent with families, friends or enjoying leisure time – are spent doing their actual work or catching up on emails they have missed while they attended meetings.

In fact, recent data says that 67 per cent of executives say meetings are a waste of time.

A Harvard Business School survey of 182 senior managers found that:

  • Sixty-five per cent of respondents think meetings are keeping them from completing their own work
  • Seventy-one per cent of respondents think meetings are unproductive and inefficient
  • Sixty-four per cent of respondents think meetings come at the expense of deep thinking
  • Sixty-two per cent of respondents think meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.

In a nutshell, we sit through meetings, wishing we were somewhere else, doing something else.

How to slim your meetings back to 25 minutes

For many, it can be hard to imagine turning that weekly one-hour catch up into a 25-minute meeting. But let me assure you, it can be done.

Let’s start by looking at a typical meeting scenario.

You may show up on time, while others may not. Maybe people rock up 10 to 15 minutes late with a few excuses about why others are not coming.

Then the meeting begins, with questions about the agenda that nobody has seen and/or some attendees are disputing.

Then, you finally get started on the first meeting item, there is some active discussion that chews up 15 minutes, and you still have a further three items to get through.

Finally, the remaining agenda items are rushed through before two people stand up and say they need to leave to get to their next meeting, which they are already late for.

At best, said meeting had 25 minutes of productive time.

Let’s look at what bad meeting habits actually cost us:

  • Waiting for latecomers – five minutes  
  • Pondering the agenda – five minutes
  • Waffling and straying from the agenda – five minutes
  • Looking at mobile phones or PCs – five minutes
  • Fixing tech – five minutes

There’s 25 minutes right there that you could recover if you got rid of bad meeting habits, and that’s when I’m being generous with time! It’s not unusual to frequently spend more than five minutes on some of these things.

But don’t take my word for it. In your next meeting, keep a tally of how many minutes are actually spent being productive – the time where there is open discussion and debate, when decisions are made, relevant information is shared and problems are solved – and prepare to be gobsmacked.

Once you realise just how much time you waste in meetings, you’re ready to commit to the 25-minute meetings. Make sure everyone is on board, and make it a mission to have efficient meetings.

Four steps to running an effective 25-minute meeting

1. Have a clear, written purpose and agenda for every meeting
When you start the meeting, be clear about why you are there, who needs to be there and how the meeting will be conducted.

2. Be present and ready to cooperate
Make sure everyone has done any pre-work and is prepared for the meeting discussion. If they haven’t consider whether the meeting needs to be rescheduled as a result.

Start and end the meeting on time, and don’t allow any repetition or make-up for latecomers.

Do not allow any laptops or phones in the meeting so you can have 25 minutes of dedicated discussion.

3. Make the meeting a space to communicate and contribute
People need to feel comfortable quickly in order to bring their genius to the table, share their insights, ask quality questions and engage in the meeting.  

To make people feel at ease set aside the first few minutes of every meeting to do a rapport building exercise, or check in. Do a quick whip around the table, asking a positive question, such as: What did you do on the weekend?  Best part of your week so far? What’s your number one priority for the week? This will help people relax, and make quality contributions to the meeting.

Make sure you use the meeting to enhance your work, not to prevent anyone from doing ‘real work’. Everyone attending should be clear about the desired outcome and how it relates to their work. If necessary explain why each person is there and the value they bring to the discussion as well as the value the meeting will provide to their work.

4. Follow Up

Make a list of any decisions or actions attendees have committed to, and send this to all attendees as soon as possible after the meeting.

Make sure everyone follows through on commitments and actions after the meeting, and hold people accountable if they don’t.

It may not happen overnight, but by following the steps above you will be well on the way to having productive meetings that deliver value to your organisation, and leave your team feeling valued.

Donna McGeorge is a speaker, author and mentor who helps people make their work work. Using a creative, practical approach, she improves workplace effectiveness while challenging thinking on leadership, productivity and virtual work. ‘The 25-Minute Meeting: Half the Time, Double the Impact’ is published by John Wiley.

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