Most meetings start with good intentions. You have a feeling of purpose. John wrote an agenda. Clarence even brought Godiva chocolate. But, 55 minutes (and an entire sub-reddit on Kangaroos) later, the meeting ends. You’ve done nothing. Plan to do nothing. And you’re now waiting for more kangaroo-related content.
The meeting sucked.
Most organizations run terrible meetings. For the best intentions, the group sits down to work. But, because of poor structure, the group produces nothing. A few members have “action items”, but that’s it. You sat down. You talked. And then you left.
So, how can you run a better meeting? At Harvard LifeHack, we help Harvard clubs improve club meetings. It’s not easy. But we’ve learned a few easy changes you should make. Here is the shortlist from our workshop.
1. End your meetings on a high
Over the past 15 years, psychologists have researched how we encode memories. Their findings are surprising; when remembering experiences, we do not remember the entire process. Rather, we recall the “peak” (the best or worst moment) and the “end” (the final moment).
Don’t end your meetings with the last agenda item. Instead, create a tradition that will finish every meeting positively. At Harvard LifeHack, we end every meet-up (big or small) by putting our hands together and shouting “Victory!!!”. Be creative and think of a fun tradiiton. It will make others look forward to your meetings.
Please note: “with a high” not “by getting high”
2. Start the meetings with a positive round
A study in 2006 showed that starting a meeting with a positive comment set the stage for a productive meeting. Conversely, when starting the meeting with a negative comment individuals became more hostile, more argumentative, and less likely to achieve consensus. There are a couple of ways you can run a happy meeting. For LifeHack, we play the “Rose of the Week” where everyone at a meeting has 30-60 seconds to say the best moment of the week. Other options could include naming someone you’ve helped the past week, the funniest thing that’s happened, etc.
3. Use the 45/15 Rule
As humans, we suffer from the planning fallacy. This means that we predict tasks will take less time in the future than they actually will. Have you ever left a meeting with “action items”, only to not complete them? Hugo Van Vuuren, VC at the Xfund and advisor to HackLife, suggests using the “45/15” rule for meetings. The first 45 minutes are for collaborative discussions. The final fifteen are silent, or are given to collaborative doing. Many action items only involve a few quick emails. Make your meetings a place of doing, not talking. Break it down with the 45/15 rule.
4. Have an Agenda
All meetings at Apple and Google have to use an agenda. This describes a purpose for the meeting, items that need to be achieved, and an order. An agenda forces the meeting to address all important topics. As well, it makes clear why everyone needs to be at the meeting. The size of the meeting doesn’t matter; have an agenda and stick with it.
5. Cut your meeting time in half
The defacto length for most meetings is an hour. But, think about your own meetings before you accept that. Do they all need to be that long? Most meetings expand to the amount of time you give them. Try planning 30 minute meetings instead. This will push people to arrive on time. As well, it will force the group to make decisions faster.
6.Hold a walking meeting
A study at the university of Michigan showed holding meetings while walking increased creativity. As well, a related study indicated that standing meetings boosted excitement and reduced defensiveness around individual ideas. Make your meetings more collaborative and creative: hold them walking through a park.
The effectiveness of “Sprinting Meetings” is still under review.
7. Keep a timer
Constraints on time breed creativity. Google meetings often feature a giant timer on the wall. The timer serves as a gentle reminder to the group. Within the allotted time, the goals of the meeting must be finished. Extended meetings can demotivate a group. Don’t fall for that trap. Make sure each meeting is timed.
8. No more than 7 people
No one should be at a meeting they don’t need to be. So, try to think about the importance of each meeting’s attendee. If they aren’t entirely relevant to the gathering, they shouldn’t be there. Even more, the larger a group gets the less productive it becomes. A good rule of thumb is to keep meetings small. 5-7 is a good number to keep everyone involved and relevant.
9. Appoint a decision maker
In order to make your meetings productive, choose one person with responsibility to make the final decision. At the end of the day, meetings are for getting something done. In order to make sure an action is decided, give one person decision making power. This gives them responsibility over the results of the meeting. It also makes each meeting more streamlined. Google adopted this policy in order to speed up it’s decision process.
10. Stand up while meeting
Even if you can’t go outside, standing up during a meeting can change the pace. As researchers at Washington University found, standing while talking makes groups less competitive, more collaborative, and more fun. Furthermore, recent research has shown that sitting is detrimental to your health. Make your group healthier and more productive; make your meetings stand-up mandatory.
11. Break at 30 minutes
Ever wondered why TED Talks are capped at 18 minutes? The answer lies in psychology. The human brain can only maintain concentration for 15-18 minutes before tuning out. Good leaders understand that and try to work around it. The best way to improve concentration is simply by taking breaks. Take a 1-2 minute standing break after 30 minutes. Then after an hour give a 5-10 walking and socializing break. It’s scary to give up your control of a meeting. But, it’s necessary for good work to happen.
12. Make your meetings novel
Walking in a park, keeping a giant timer, shouting “victory” are all novel ways to keep motivation up. Virgin CEO, Richard Branson, recommends changing the location whenever possible. Hold a meeting in a tree house? Lawn chairs? With a british accent? Whatever you do, make sure that you’re enjoying the meeting your attending. Social bonding is a great predictor of a team’s long-term success.
How do you run your meetings? Are college organizations different from workplace environments? Leave your comment below to help others change their meetings.