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The 3-Step Meeting Formula

I, like many of you, attend a lot of meetings. While the majority are now virtual, taking place on Zoom or Teams, I do occasionally have in-person meetings.

Regardless of whether we stare at each other, face-to-face or through screens, I’ve come to realize after thousands of meetings that there are only three questions that determine whether a meeting was worth the time or could’ve been more effectively replaced with a well thought out memo or email.

Too many meeting end with the only result being another meeting invite…which leads to another, and another, and so on. Projects get delayed, timelines get pushed, and there’s entirely too much confusion in the midst of such a plethora of meetings.

Here’s how to fix it…

Step 1: At the start of the meeting, ask this question:

What is/are the outcome(s) for this meeting?

Having an agenda is nice.

Having a destination is better.

If you know where you’re trying to go, you can make up and agenda along the way, if you have to. But if you have an agenda and no outcome(s), you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

Every meeting should have a statement representing the agreed upon outcome that the meeting’s success or value is judged against. If this question cannot be answered, consider cancelling the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, wrap up by answering this question:

What are the next actions that everyone is responsible for?

Some meetings have no next actions, and that is fine. Most meetings are arranged in order to discuss or resolve something which often leads to a set of next steps.

Before leaving the meeting, clearly define what each person is responsible for and when that action is due.

At the end of the meeting or immediately after the meeting ends, capture this information:

Where are the key details that we need to remember to complete our next actions?

If sharing this information is critical to the other members of the team, you can do it in the meeting. If not, end the meeting and regroup with only those who can add or gain some value from participation.

Assume that you will walk away from the meeting and get pulled into something else, or distracted in some other way. Capture the details as a gift to your future self who will be trying to remember the details of the conversation, and figure out what is supposed to be done.

Meetings are opportunity cost

I’m in a lot of meetings. Many are valuable. Some are not. With the backlog of projects and side quests on my list of things to do, every hour matters. I’m sure you are in the same boat.

Too many of us longingly muse, “if only there was enough time…”

Well, we can get some of that time back by having fewer meetings without outcomes, reducing the number of follow-up meetings needed, and ensuring that we don’t require more of people’s time because we forgot what we were supposed to do.

Let’s have fewer, but more valuable meetings.

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