Not that many months ago I was like so many professionals – bored to tears sitting through 60, 90 and sometimes even 120 minute status meetings. I, along with my team mates, were checked out before they even started. We never accomplished anything. If the leader was unavailable we cancelled the meeting – often 2-3 weeks would pass between sessions. The agenda changed constantly and as a whole we did a bad job following up on action items.
Many organizations use something called a “standing meeting” to address the drone that we’ve all come to despise. In my experience, they may improve calf muscles, but do little to actually keep a meeting productive. The stand up meeting is just another way to make status meetings uncomfortable. No way I was going to recommend that approach! So the droning continued.
Then a change in team leadership gave us an excuse to modify the meetings. Rather than cancel the meetings all together, we were tempted, very tempted, we changed the format. We knew getting together as a team once a week was an important tool for staying tuned into the business. We also knew we had one chance to get this right.
First we changed the membership of the group, and limited ourselves to no more than 30 minutes at the same time each week. We set a standard agenda, and we rotated note taking and a cadance for follow up. Very quickly unspoken, but important rules emerged.
Rule #1 Leave your ego at the door – if you, or your department needs help, ask. If your peer has done something amazing, congratulate them. If you see a mistake about to happen point out the concern.
Rule #2 Don’t measure your value by the amount of time you speak – Everyone is given an equal amount of time to present. If you have nothing relevant to say, skip your turn. If a point has been made, don’t repeat it.
Rule #3 Use a talking stick – A traditional African custom allows individuals to speak only when holding the talking stick. This ensures people listen while others are speaking and offers a equity in sharing ideas. Passing along a talking stick may feel odd at first, but it creates a cadance that is immensely helpful. For the first four weeks we used talking sticks (the remote for the presentation machine), but then fell into a pattern and it was no longer needed.
Rule #4 Powerpoint is banned – trust me, you’ll thank me later. If you need to share something visually print it out or send ahead of time.
Rule #5 Hold yourself accountable -make sure a summary and relevant action items are sent out the same day. If an individual can’t be at the meeting don’t send a proxy, send an update via one of your peers.
There are times when 30 minutes is not enough for a meeting. Teaching complex concepts, sharing detailed case studies and building long term product and corporate strategies for example. But the status meeting is not one of those places. 30 minutes is all you need. Use them wisely and you’ll start looking forward to those regular touch bases.