What is the truest, most accurate test of culture change in a company?
It’s like we need a killer app for meetings – you know, what PDA did for email. What will save us from the painful stream of meetings that lack focus, drag on with meaningless debates, and end with no decision or commitment?
If you’re one of the many who relate to the meetings as a kind of Corporate Culture Purgatory (without the benefit of purifying yourself), maybe it’s time to overhaul your meeting culture. Changing culture in the workplace means changing how you coordinate complex projects with thousands of people spread across the company – or the globe. In the end, meetings are supposed to create alignment, clarify priorities, and speed up business, right?
How’s that working for you?
The ultimate team effectiveness tool is to co-locate empowered teams: Google does it and so do a lot of technology companies. But this isn’t always realistic for today’s global workforces.
Below are six tips we deployed with a recent client to overhaul their company’s meeting culture and eliminate wasted hours spent every week in ineffective meetings:
1) What’s the goal? The goal is not the same as an agenda. The goal answers the question “Why are we meeting?” and “The meeting is over when _______________.”
2) Less is more. Think “next step” not “solve every problem.” Too often, meetings end with action plans that overwhelm people. Scope your goal smaller.
3) Limited information-sharing, more decision making. There are more efficient ways to get everyone up to speed than meetings – consider migrating some updates to a virtual team workplace. Most meetings should end with a decision or action. If a decision maker can’t be there, reschedule. In a project management group we worked with recently, this one step reduced the time they spent in meetings almost immediately.
4) Commit to shorter meetings. Time is like space – you fill up what you have. If the meeting is scheduled for an hour, you’ll use the hour. Go on a meeting diet and set a “standard meeting time limit” of 30-45 minutes. Buy a timer and use it – when the timer rings, the meetings is over! Download this handy time-keeping tool – it keeps a running total of how much every minute you’re in the meeting costs. For the advanced, challenge yourself to 15 minute meetings – if the software guys can do it in SCRUM, it’s good enough for you. Not all meetings fit into a short scope (planning and team building sessions come to mind) but with a properly scoped goal you’ll be amazed what you can accomplish in 30 minutes – leaving time for a bathroom stop before the next meeting.
5) Use visuals. Keep the goal and agenda visible in front of everyone – this is a very effective tool to keep everyone focused. Use a flip chart if you are in a room together, or a slide on web conferencing if you are meeting virtually.
6) “You’re uninvited.” 80% of people admit they multi-task during teleconferences, and that’s happening in face-to-face meetings too (when are you supposed to answer email if you’re in meetings all day?). The real question: If you are able to tune out, do you need to be there? A good goal and short meeting has a very small audience – ideally 3 or less, and no more than 5 attendees. Update the rest of the team with a 2-3 sentence email about the meeting goal and what was accomplished or decided.
Stop the insanity of unfocused meetings and you’ll become a modern workplace hero – or at least someone who’s freed up to take on more worthy challenges.
Lisa Jackson is a corporate culture expert and co-author of 2 books including the brand new “Culture Builder Toolkit: A Step-by-Step Guide for Assessing and Changing Corporate Culture.” She specializes in teaching companies and leaders how to align and transform their corporate culture to maximize profitable growth, productivity, and innovation.