How Long Do Your Meetings Last?

BY Kathy Crosett
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We have all been there – trapped in a meeting that extends past the stated end time. Often, the offenders in these meetings are senior executives who get excited about an idea that has come up. Before you know it, some of the attendees are actively involved in a spur-​of-​the-​moment brainstorming session. Everyone else is looking at their phones, wondering when they can get back to work.

If this scenario happens too frequently at your company’s meetings, it may be time to experiment with the five-​minute rule described by Sue Shellenbarger in a recent Wall Street Journal column. The speed of commerce keeps increasing as we rely on digital tools. Everybody feels the pressure to get their jobs done and every minute spent in a meeting puts people behind schedule.

As a manager, you can reduce the stress your people experience by cutting meeting times to the bone. Instead of scheduling a weekly 30-​minute session with team members, ask them to reach out when they are having a specific issue. You can then call or drop by people’s cubicles to solve a problem in five minutes or less. These kinds of interactions can also work as coaching sessions. Simply review the problem with team members, ask how they would prefer to solve it, and offer your advice. You may choose to let them solve problems on their own, after considering your advice, so they can learn from the outcomes of the decisions they made.

Some of the examples cited by Shellenbarger may strike people as too “East Coast.” In one case, senior executives are quite comfortable cutting people off in the middle of a discussion and making a recommendation. Once they understand the issue, they don’t need to hear employees bloviating, especially if they are obviously trying to impress the manager. If managers sense they’ve been a bit rude, they can always apologize to the employee privately. The bottom line is some managers fixate on using their time efficiently.

As Shellenbarger describes, some tech companies have long used daily check-​in meetings to plan work for the day and quickly review problems that arose the previous day. These meetings typically last five minutes or less and people often stand during the gathering. Any topic that looks like it might take longer to discuss qualifies for a longer meeting that includes only the team members who really need to be present.

If you notice people seem distracted or bored in your meetings, take the hint and change your strategy. Productivity may increase as a result.