We've all been there: wasting precious time in a meeting that is headed nowhere fast.
There are lots of reasons this happens, but often it comes down to a lack of preparation. Think about it: You can send an agenda in advance, you can provide all the resources your team needs for a productive meeting, but this won't do any good unless people take time to review and think things over ahead of time.
The idea that your people prepare well before every meeting is great, but let's get real: It's simply not going to happen.
And that's what makes the following tactic such a game-changer.
A Tactic From Bezos: Start With Silence
I like to call it: silent start.
How does it work?
In the opening minutes of some meetings, before any discussion begins, Bezos and his team of senior executives read printed memos in total silence. (The memos have been known to reach up to six pages, and the silent start may last as long as 30 minutes.) During this time, moderator and attendees peruse. They scribble notes in the margins.
But most important, they think.
"For new employees, it's a strange initial experience," says Bezos. "They're just not accustomed to sitting silently in a room and doing study hall with a bunch of executives."
Bezos says this community exercise has a wonderful purpose: It assures undivided attention on the part of everyone in attendance. Additionally, it helps better prepare those who lead such discussions--because of the skill and focused thought needed to put these memos together in the first place.
"Full sentences are harder to write," explains the famous founder. "They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking."
If you fear that starting a meeting with an extended period of silence will be counterproductive, I can assure you it's not. I've used this method in my own meetings, and it actually saves time in the long run. The foundation for the meetings is laid in real time, starting everyone off, well, on the same page. If the initial memo is done right, it provides real direction and helps reduce misunderstandings.
But best of all, silent start gives your people what they need most to do their best work:
Focused thinking and extended reflection can lead to deep discoveries. The problem is, with full inboxes and overscheduled calendars, many simply don't take the time for this valuable exercise.
But this small investment of a few minutes can produce huge dividends--in the form of more meaningful discussion and inspired collaboration. It can transform meetings from a painful and necessary evil to a more open, enjoyable, productive exchange--the place where great ideas are born or refined.
Would you like to offer that to your team or organization?
Then you might consider giving some of your upcoming meetings a silent start.