Three Ways To Run More Effective Meetings

Solve the problem of too many meetings and not enough time
Solve the problem of too many meetings and not enough time Image Credit: Jeffrey Zeldman

Ok, so I’m willing to admit it: I really don’t think that highly of Steve Jobs. Yes, he had a very successful career. However, if you take a careful look at his life, it turns out that he really was a jerk. Ok, now that I’ve got that off my chest, it turns out that I do need to give him some credit. He may have been a jerk, but he was a really bright guy. One of the things that he left us with is some guidance on how managers can do a better job of running meetings. Considering how many of these things that we find ourselves in, perhaps it would be worthwhile to listen to what Mr. Jobs has to tell us.

The Problem With Meetings

Managers have suffered for years under a heavy burden. And no, it’s not too much work (although that is also a problem that we have to deal with). Our problem is not too many meetings. Rather, it’s too many meetings AND too much work. Let’s face it – there’s just not enough time in the day to fit it all in. Our work is what makes our business hum – its priority No. 1, you might say. Meetings are designed to support work; when they don’t, they become a time suck that wrecks productivity. But managers are is increasingly buried in meetings. The reasons are all over the place, but they generally center on our leadership wanting more control or believing (incorrectly) that gabbing in groups clarifies and expedites work that has to be done.

Back in the day, it turns out that Steve Jobs had a good grasp on this. He knew what meetings to keep and which to cut out of his schedule. Perhaps even more importantly, he knew how to run them efficiently. Let’s face it, I think that we can all agree that it’s time we get back to it. Steve Jobs created was is called the “Meeting Rule of 3s”. These rules were inspired by Jobs’ own approach to leadership meetings. Note that there have been some tweaks inspired by other tech leaders.

Meeting Rules of 3s

When managers set up meetings, they need to keep the invite list small — ideally, three to five people. Why should we do this? It’s actually pretty simple. The more people you have in a meeting, the less productive it will turn out to be. Too many voices quickly become a sea of noise and it’s less likely you’ll get anything accomplished. In fact, once upon a time Steve Jobs declined an invite from President Obama to a tech meeting because he felt that the guest list was too long. Also, as you build your invite list, make sure that you know exactly what each person’s stake or role in the meeting will be. If they cannot or will not contribute, be sure to cut them from your invite list. Anyone who was going to be there just for informational purposes can instead be sent a transcript or recording after the fact.

When a manager is putting the agenda for their meeting together, they need to keep the agenda short – include no more than three items. The goal here is keep your focus. If you have more than three items on an agenda, you’re likely to easily get lost in a rabbit hole of unrelated topics and side conversations. It’s hard to know what conclusions you should be drawing and what action items you will have at the end when agenda items run amuck. You need to keep it short — and make sure all three of your agenda items are clearly connected to the core purpose of your meeting.

You need to keep the length of your meeting to no more than 30 minutes. We all may think the substance of a given meeting demands a bigger time slot, but science tells us that largely ends up as a waste of time. The attendees span of attention is shorter than a goldfish’s and their mental stamina is unable to sustain meaningful, analytical discussion for very long. If you keep meetings short (this means no more than 30 minutes) and parcel key pieces of information in digestible chunks (this means one- to two-minute segments), you’re more likely to leave the meeting with broad comprehension.

What All Of This Means For You

Steve Jobs made a big impact on every business that he was a part of. His personality had its pluses and minuses. However, there is no question that he had a good grasp of what it took to get people to communicate effectively. As managers search for ways to get their teams to become more productive, one of the ways that we can make this happen is by getting better at running meetings. This is where Steve Jobs can lend us a hand. Steve knew how to run meetings and we can learn a thing or two from him.

Steve believed that the invite list for a meeting should be kept small. The more people who come, the longer and less productive the meeting is going to be. Steve also believed that the agenda for any one meeting should be kept short. You should plan on covering no more than three items during a single meeting. Finally, meetings should not last that long. People can’t focus for that long so we need to keep our meetings short so that they can be productive.

Meetings will always be a part of our life. As managers it is our responsibility to find ways to make the meetings that members of our team have to go to as productive as possible. If we take the time to study how Steve Jobs went about running the meetings that he was in charge of, we just might learn a thing or two. Give these ideas a try and find out if the meetings that you are running all of sudden become more productive!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that there would ever be a need to hold a longer meeting?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As managers, we talk. Not only do we talk, but we happen to talk a lot. Where this starts to get interesting is that it turns out that how we talk matters. It matters a lot. There are two primary types of conversation styles and we need to know which one we are using. It turns out that the people that we are talking to may view interruptions differently and that’s why it matters so much.