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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Radical ideas for efficient meetings

11:01:00 AM Posted by Oscar Berg , No comments

Don’t you just love those meetings that don’t have a structure, focus, expected outcome or purpose whatsoever? What you have is someone calling to the meeting – which due to unfortunate circumstances can be you – and a place and time to meet. When calling to the meeting, it is optional to specify a time when the meeting is expected to end. The reason for the meeting can be that someone expressed a desire to meet, that you have said that you should meet on Mondays at a certain time, or "I don't have anything to do, so I'll call to a meeting".

I’m not talking about ad hoc social meetings by the coffee station. No, I’m talking about real meetings during work hours. Personally, I find these kinds of meetings to be quite amusing. It is especially funny when someone – it can be anyone in the room and not necessarily the person who called to the meeting – tries to wrap up the never-ending meeting (due to boredom) in the middle of a discussion by whispering “well, I have another meeting…”

I don’t know if this is a typical Swedish way to hold meetings, but I have a suspicion that although some elements probably are universal some of them are typical Swedish. Anyway, if you happen to find yourself being in lot of these kinds of meetings and eventually start to get bored with them (like when you hear the same kind of joke over and over again), here are some radical ideas to ensure that your own meetings are efficient (besides the obvious things as preparing an agenda with meeting objectives):

  • Book a meeting room that can take just as many persons as the number you have invited to the meeting. If any uninvited persons show up to the meeting, they will either have to stand up or decide not to participate in the meeting.
  • Forbid all participants to bring their laptops and mobile phones into the meeting room. That will stop them from doing other things such as checking their email or sending SMS during the meeting. Build a pile with their laptops outside of the meeting room.
  • Ask a few colleges (who obviously does not have anything better to do) to start circling outside of the meeting room and occasionally opening the door to see if it is empty approximately fifteen minutes before your meeting is specified to end. If your meeting is not on track by then, you will at least get a reminder for everyone to achieve something during the last fifteen minutes.
  • Bring a bullshit button to the meeting and place it at a central location on the meeting table. Ask everybody to press it when the meeting is heading away from the subject.
  • Provide every participant with a test before the meeting to test them if they have read the agenda that you distributed before the meeting. Those who fail get assigned tasks, such as taking notes, making sure everyone has something to drink, or watching over the pile of laptops outside of the meeting room so no laptop gets stolen.
  • Record the meeting and inform the participants that you are recording it and will make the recording available to other stakeholders.

Pretty soon, you will probably not be able to assemble any people to meetings - unless it is absolutely necessary. And they people you need to meet will probably investigate other means of meeting and collaborating with you, such as chat, phone conferencing and good old e-mail. Your main benefit will be that more of your time will be freed up to get some real work done.

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