Stand up, be supportive and don't waste time: just some of the good advice on how to boss a meeting.
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It is one of the great mysteries of the modern world: Why do we spend so much time in meetings? Here are a couple of radical ideas that might help you change the meeting culture in your organization.
1. The Fifteen Minute Rule
Cyril Parkinson, a British historian, made a crucial observation during his time with the British Civil Service. He noted that as bureaucracies expanded, they became more inefficient. He then applied this observation to other situations, realizing that as the size of something increases, its efficiency dropps.
In other words: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion (and not according to how complex it really is).
Applied to meetings we can say: The more time you schedule for a meeting the longer the meeting will last. Therefore it makes sense to limit the time of meetings. Incidentally, studies show that the attention span of the average person is between ten and eighteen minutes.
Obviously there are meetings that need more time than 15 minutes. However we suggest to ban all day meetings and limit even board meetings to 1 hour. Ideally, you should use a timer. And please be radical: When it rings, the meeting is over – immediately.
2. The question rule
There are basically three types of question that you can ask in a meeting:
First, comprehension questions, i.e. questions you can ask if you don’t understand something. We often hold back, afraid to appear uninformed, please do ask these questions!
Second, questions to support the process, these are questions to ensure that also others understand, what you might already have understood yourself, or questions to ensure that what everyone assumes is common knowledge actually becomes common knowledge (example: check that all participants interpret key terminology in the same way).
Third, debate questions where you push your agenda or challenge another person.
All three types of question are legitimate, but they should not be mixed: If people start debating before everyone is on the same page, the meeting will be lost. First come comprehension questions, then questions about the process, then debate questions.
3. The standing rule
In many companies, meetings are held with everybody standing up because it tends to lead to people thinking more quickly, working more focussed and decisions being reached faster (see point 1).
As a bonus: At Washington University, studies showed that when they are standing, people react more readily with enthusiasm, whereas when they are sitting, they tend towards scepticism.
4. The smartphone rule
This one is simple: No smartphones during the meeting. They will distract you. The best way to apply this rule is by leading the way. Switch your phone off the minute you enter a meeting. It is the only way to stay away from it. Notes, by the way, should be made by hand. Even the White House supposedly followed this rule under Barack Obama.
How to talk like a (great) boss
Close your eyes for a moment and think about the best boss you ever had. Now think of the worst one. What set them apart? Most likely, your best boss not only achieved good results, but was also a good communicator.
A good boss is someone who gets the best out of their employees, or at least gives them the feeling they are achieving their full potential. But how do they do it? In the context of our book, the question is: How do you communicate properly with your employees, with your team?
Obviously there can’t be a universal answer: every person, every situation, every company, every relationship is different. At the same time we all know that we should speak to our team the way we would like to be spoken to: considerately, directly, clearly. Let’s translate these adverbs into rules.
1. Don’t criticize
This might sound a bit too easy-going. And, of course, you have to evaluate the work of your employees – that’s your job. But go easy on the criticism. Only start deconstructing if you’re prepared to help with the rebuilding. Keep using ‘we’. Especially when your team has lost.
2. Give praise (but not too much)
Go easy on the compliments, otherwise they lose their effect. If you celebrate behaviour that you expect, you are lowering standards. And whatever you do, don’t praise simply in order to make people like you.
3. Practise what you preach
Nothing rings more hollow than words that aren’t backed up by deeds. If punctuality and friendliness are important to you, then be punctual and friendly. Set the pace, demonstrate values, establish the tone.
You ought to be good at upholding standards that are important to you, and if there are standards that you regard as important but find hard to uphold, then you need to learn them yourself. Share this with your employees. Nobody can be good at everything.