Your Meetings Don’t Have to Suck

Anthony CloskeyCommunications, Design

Meetings have a nasty reputation as 30-to-90-minute wastes of time. They show up on your schedule with little to no added context, leaving you uninformed and underprepared. But they’re not just a nuisance, meetings are expensive. The cost of each meeting you attend is equal to the length of the meeting multiplied by the collective hourly rate of all of those in attendance — yikes.

Meetings also come with a human cost. They poke holes in your daily workflow and detract from your focus. The amount of time that it takes you to shift your mindset to the topic of the meeting, then away from that conversation and back to the topic of your work takes up almost as much time as the meeting itself. On top of all that, they zap mental energy, which can affect performance.

But, this doesn’t have to be your reality — your meetings don’t have to suck!

Step 1: Clearly define the problem that a design should solve

Step 2: Create and consider multiple options

Step 3: Select the best options and begin the iterative process

Step 4: Know and agree upon when the problem has been solved

Front Cover of Meeting Design by Kevin M. Hoffman

Kevin Hoffman said it best when he wrote, “Meetings don’t have to be painfully inefficient snoozefests—if you design them.” As big fans of both working together and designing our world, we’ve been fans of his book, Meeting Design: For Managers, Makers, and Everyone, since it came out last year. In the book, Hoffman uses the principles of design to reframe the reader’s approach to meetings.

As a service to all those who experience bad meetings everywhere, here’s a bit of what we learned from our pal Kevin. The following principles of the design process hold the power to solve all your meeting woes.

Principle #1
Meetings exist to solve problems.

Before you so much as open your Google Calendar to schedule a meeting, clearly define the problem that you wish to solve by holding one. If you can’t, you don’t need a meeting — you should not allow meetings to simply become workplace habits. As Hoffman puts it, “a meeting is a mechanism for creating meaningful change in your work [that cannot otherwise be accomplished].”

Principle #2
The formats of your meetings are a creative outlet.

After choosing the time and place of your meeting, remove yourself from the expectations of what a meeting ‘should’ look like, and consider the multitude of different formats that yours might take. At Shift, we most commonly utilize classic conversational meetings, brainstorming sessions, and collaborative working sessions. Depending on the goal of the meeting, we use different tools to aid our progress. This could include a slide deck, a fat stack of sticky notes, white boards, or all of the above. We also keep fidget toys and snacks on deck to promote comfort and creativity.

Principle #3
If your meetings suck, you are allowed to fix them.

If the meeting style you’ve chosen isn’t quite working for your team, change it. Maybe tweaking the length of the meeting or switching up the arrangement of the furniture in the meeting space would better facilitate productivity. You could also try using a timer to limit the participation of the stronger personalities in the room, encouraging others to speak up. Whatever changes you make, be sure to assess their effectiveness to ensure the best use of your time.

Principle #4
Recognize when it’s time to have other meetings.

Just as important as knowing if you should schedule a meeting, or series of standing meetings, is knowing when you should stop holding them. During a discussion with your team, revisit the initial problem. Have you solved it? If the problem has changed or evolved slightly along the way, is there anything else this meeting could contribute to its resolution? Questions like these will guide you to a meeting’s natural conclusion.

Now that you know the truth about meetings, think about those that you attend in an average week. Do they follow these principles of the design process? If not, speak up and share what you learned. Your coworkers will thank you.