Stop the Meeting Madness: 3 Choices for Smart Leaders

Just 3-4%. That’s all, just 3-4% of their time is spent on long-term strategy and 60% of their time is spent in meetings.

That’s what Harvard Business School recently discovered in a research project on the way CEO’s spend their time.

The report found that CEO’s are hardworking and diligent, serving their firms tirelessly. No surprise, right? What was surprising was this: The area where CEO’s spent most of their time, over 60% of it, was in meetings, with only 3-4% of their time being spent on long-term strategy.

Neither of these percentages are encouraging.

Whether you’re a CEO nor not, if you’re in business, you’re probably sick of sitting in meetings. They don’t need to be a necessary evil, however. Smart leaders handle meetings differently. Here’s how:

1. The Check-in Meeting

Every time you sit down for a meeting, you don’t have to spend and hour.  In fact, I would guess that most meetings don’t require anywhere near to an hour to get things done. The check-in is a quick, five minute meeting to briefly touch base on what’s going on. That’s the agenda, nothing else. This meeting has been called a stand-up meeting, because the minute you’ve put your butt in a chair, you’ve wasted a hour. So it’s best to do a check-in standing up.

When a meeting like this takes place in a group, it’s called a huddle. Some find that term too sports-minded, but you get the idea. People don’t sit down in a huddle, they stand up and talk about the next play, not the entire season. Check-ins can be done daily, or a few times a week, but they are brief, single issue touch points with your people.

Three Kinds of Meetings

2. The Strategy Meeting

The next kind of meeting is the strategy meeting, best conducted over an extended period of time off-site. The strategy meeting is like going up on the balcony and viewing the party below. When you’re down on the floor dancing, all you can see is the whirlwind that’s going around you, but when you’re up on the balcony you see people at the party who aren’t having a good time at all, other who are drunk in the corner, and still others who are walking out the door. The only way to see all of this stuff is to leave the dance floor and go up to the balcony and watch for a while.

That’s why once a quarter, no less than once a year, a leadership team should get off-site and take an extended look from the balcony, honestly evaluating the progress of the business and setting the plan for the months ahead. My clients usually take a morning for these meetings, about three to four hours, with breakfast before or lunch afterward. One of those quarterly meetings should take a longer look, planning the next year, three years, or even five years.

3. The Tactical Meeting

The third kind of meeting is the one we’re most familiar with, and it’s a meeting that I believe is grossly overused: the tactical meeting. First, there are things that need discussing related to your business that can’t be done in an hour. That’s why the strategy meeting is so critical. It provides a protected place and a protected time to get the all-important view from the balcony. Secondly, once direction is set, quick check-ins are often all that’s needed to keep people on track.

With these two meetings in place, the tactical meeting can be used sparingly, not abandoned entirely, but utilized every couple of weeks, or even just once a month. Use the tactical meeting for, obviously, tactical issues: short term planning, key metrics, and ongoing accountabilities. If a bigger picture, more long-term item comes up, defer it to your next strategy session.

In other words, stop the meeting madness!

Don’t use just one kind of meeting all the time. That’s like using one key on the piano to play every song. There’s often a better, more effective way to meet your business needs and increase impact with your people.