If you work in a white collar environment, chances are that you spend quite some time in meetings. This is often a good thing, but it can be quite the struggle to combine a day full of meetings with a day full of deliverables.

You can try quite a few things to make meetings work. Here’s two different strategies I’ve tried:

A. Have more meetings but instead have them shorter.
B. Have less meetings but instead have them longer.

The problem with this approach is that the length of the meeting is secondary to the quality of the meeting. This is an important insight. When trying to figure out what works best, time management often isn’t as important as one might think.

If it takes ten minutes to reach a decision, fine. If it takes 60 minutes to reach a decision, well ok then.

Therefore, I’ve come to believe in “decisive meetings”. I think planned meetings should be about making decisions.

Here’s 5 guidelines for those “decisive meetings”:

1. When you plan the meeting, make sure the participants know beforehand what decisions will be made during the meeting. Prepare an agenda and send it out.

2. Invite the people you need for making the decisions you need.

3. Steer the meeting towards decisions. Some discussions never end anyway. Let people argue for their preferred decisions rather than allowing for them to focus on trying to outshine each other in finding new angles on new problems.

4. If you still want to do a briefing, a creative brainstorm or stage a discussion, do your best to formulate the meeting notes as “decisions made”, rather than “items discussed”.

5. Make sure the decisions are being transferred in writing to everyone concerned afterwards and do follow-ups. For each action item, be clear on a) who is responsible, b) when is the deadline and c) what are the objectives.

But, what about the How? In meetings, participants should be choosing between different plausible options in order to find the best way forward. Because here’s the kicker:

Solving problems, finding solutions, talking to people, producing and coordinating, convincing stakeholders, choosing different types of implementations, that’s what the organization should be doing in-between meetings—not in them.


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