When was the last time that you scheduled a 30-minute meeting and finished early because you only needed 15 minutes? It happens, but it's rare because we always manage to fill the time. Endless-meeting-sydrome doesn't just plague large corporations, and just about every small business owner I talk with has challenges with managing meetings.
Let's do a quick calculation: add up the hourly rate for each of your employees including yourself and determine how much money your last all-staff meeting cost you. If you're a small business with even a handful of employees, it was likely at least several hundred dollars, if not thousands.
If you're honest with yourself, though, the decisions you made in that hour likely could have been made in just 15 minutes. And, if not, it probably needed to be a separate discussion away from the larger group or a proper brainstorm meeting with the requisite white boards.
In the tech startup world, engineers hold daily "stand-up" meetings that typically last just 15 minutes. The name of the meeting is pretty clear: everyone participating stands (instead of sitting) and provides a short update with a focus on any roadblocks in their way.
Physically standing prevents meetings that needlessly lag on. Whether it's on the floor of your retail shop on Main Street or in a standard conference room, challenge yourself to keep your check-in meetings focused and down to just 15 minutes. Here's how:
Send out the agenda beforehand.
Set the policy that whomever schedules the meeting must own the agenda. Ask agendas to be sent out the night before with any additional information pertinent for the conversation. This includes presentations and results. The meeting should be an opportunity to discuss the results, but not review.
Plus, sending out materials the day before gives your remote workers and introverts time to prepare for the meeting and be better participants. Introverts make up one third of the population so it's likely you have some introverted employees regardless of how small your business may be. Create a meeting culture where both introverts and extroverts can succeed.
Keep the meeting structured.
Avoid adding to your employees' cognitive load by setting a clear structure for your meeting. Set a recurring meeting and keep that time without exception. As a leader , you cannot expect your employees to prioritize the meeting and arrive on time and prepared if you don't do the same. Start each meeting by stating the goal to keep people focused.
Use your leadership to set the tone.
Your employees will follow your lead so it's important that you define the culture you want to see at your small business. After 15 minutes, ask the team if there's more to discuss. If so, set up another time and invite only those who really need to be part of the discussion. Avoid having ad hoc hallway meetings.
On a small team, it's important to be collaborative but that also means being inclusive, and ad hoc meetings can often lead to stakeholders being left out of important discussions and decisions.
Frequent meetings lowers the stakes.
When meetings occur only infrequently, employees can crave time to speak with their peers and managers. With frequent shorter meetings, conversation can focus on more tactical work, saving bigger strategic conversations for a more appropriate time.
Small can be effective.
It's important to include all stakeholders in meetings but that needs to be balanced with having the relevant people in the room. The right attendance lists will allow everyone to be in sync.
Most importantly, know when to be flexible. If your team needs to meet three times a week to accomplish the set goals then be willing to shift your schedule. Similarly, you may find that you're already having too many meetings and you need to be willing to adjust based on the current needs of your team.