This Meeting has 22-Minutes (or does it)

There has been a lot of attention lately on the idea of a 22-minute meeting. Scott Berkun blogged about it here, while the original source of the concept seems to belong to Nicole Steinbok who has a page dedicated to the idea here.

This is great idea and you can get a lot of benefit by adopting it. But I don’t think it is complete. I’d like to make a few modifications to the original idea that I have found particularly useful.

Ensure Everyone Agrees  With the Meeting Goals

The 22-Minute Meeting requires you to have a “goal based agenda”. That’s a great start, but it’s not sufficient. A goal-based agenda is only useful if everyone in the meeting agrees with the goals. At the start of every meeting, it is critical that everyone agree on the expected outcomes. Take two minutes at the beginning of every meeting and ask “Does everyone understand the goals of this meeting? Does everyone agree that those are the correct goals?”

If you  have don’t consensus on these two questions, don’t hold the meeting. It will be a waste of everyone’s time. Instead, you should change the agenda of the meeting right then and there, to have a quick (five or ten minutes max) discussion of the goals, why they are critical, and if the team thinks they should be changed. If the meeting was important enough to have, then it is critical to get agreement on the goals before you proceed.

If you think you can have a productive meeting with a few people disagreeing with the goals, then those people weren’t required in the first place and you shouldn’t have wasted their time with an invitation.

Ensure You Specify the Deliverables

As part of the defining the goals for your meeting you need to specify the expected deliverables. This is important because you can easily specify a goal for a meeting without being clear on the desired product.

You shouldn’t specify the expected outcome of a decision, but you must indicate what form the results of each goal will take. Perhaps it’s a product decision, or a project plan, or an agreement on who will produce the plan. Regardless, for every goal on your agenda you should specify the expected product or deliverable.

Assign a Meeting Maestro

One of the most valuable, and empowering, roles you should assign for each meeting is the Maestro. This person’s job is to conduct the meeting like a finely tuned symphony. Just as a traditional conductor doesn’t often write the music, the Maestro shouldn’t be the one who planned the meeting. However, their purpose is to see that the meeting happens according to plan.

Everyone in the meeting should know who the Maestro is before the meeting begins. The Maestro’s responsibility is to identify any off-topic conversations and to assign people to take that subject “off-line” and get the meeting back to focus. They are also responsible for watching the agenda and the clock to make sure that no discussion runs overtime.

This role is critical, and the person filling it must be confident enough to cut off conversation as required. Likewise, everyone participating must be willing to let the Maestro do their job.

Use a Time-Based Agenda

In addition to knowing your goals, deliverables, and having a Maestro, you need a schedule. Too many meeting organizers create an impressive list of goals, but never stop to think about how much time each item will take. If you are invited to a meeting without time-allocations next to each goal, ask the organizer to fix their agenda. Without times, the Maestro can never hope to keep the meeting on time, and you’ll never stick to the 22-minute limit. In my experience, unless an item is truly trivial, no topic can be discussed in under five-minutes. That limits a 22-minute meeting to a maximum of four non-trivial topics.

Provide a Relief Value

Even the best organized, best orchestrated meeting can sometimes fail. Accept that fact. If you are ten-minutes into your 22-minute meeting and nobody can stay on topic, or your discussions have identified problems with your goals, call the meeting off. Just stop. The meeting you wanted to have, and everyone prepared for, isn’t happening. You now have two choices: call a new meeting later with a modified set of goals, or use the remaining time to figure out why the meeting hasn’t worked and how the next meeting should be different.

Whatever you do, don’t keep meeting just because the agenda says so.

It’s OK to Go Over 22-Minutes

Despite all my previous suggestions, and as much as I love the 22-minute meeting concept, it’s important to be realistic with your goals. Some things simply cannot be done in 22-minutes. Even with loads of pre-reading and pre-meeting discussion, some deliverables cannot happen in such a short time.

If this sounds like your agenda, perhaps you aren’t even talking about the same kind of meeting anymore. Maybe we need to recognize that 22-Minute meetings are exactly that: only those meetings that can create something of value in 22-minutes.

I know this sounds like mere word-play, but I think it’s an important point. If every employee tried to ensure that no meeting took more than 22-minutes, there are entire classes of productive work that would never get completed. So remember to be realistic.

Every meeting should be exactly as short as it possibly can be, but no shorter.

What suggestions do you have for more effective meetings? How could you keep your meetings to 22-minutes?


7 thoughts on “This Meeting has 22-Minutes (or does it)

  1. Sometimes I find that people, even though they would never admit as much, actually *want* meetings to drag on. It’s as if not enough opportunities exist for a team to bond and blow off steam, so instead they have to take up precious meeting time doing just that.

    This thought really just occurred to me from reading your post, so I haven’t given it much consideration, but I wonder if companies or teams that suffer from ineffectual meetings that drag on forever might want to take a look at whether they need to create more opportunities for team-based socializing/networking so that actual meetings can be run more efficiently, without trying to cram in all the chatter.

    Another thought, sometimes people call a meeting when really what they need to do is brainstorm or collaborate. We all might be happier if the distinction between a meeting with several people and a brainstorming/collaboration/design session with one or two people was made clearer and more apparent. It’s like people worry that they will leave someone out, snub someone that isn’t included, so they end up creating a long invitation list.

    And before you know it, the meeting becomes a party. And it isn’t much of a party if it only lasts 22 minutes. 🙂

    • I hadn’t considered long meetings as a substitute for socializing, but that makes a lot of sense. Certainly that is something managers should consider if they find their teams planning lots of unnecessarily long meetings: maybe the team just needs to get out and play together for a little bit.

      I also agree that a distinction should be made between design or brainstorming sessions, and more traditional decision-making meetings. I think that was what I was trying to express in my last point that not every meeting could be 22-minutes. You’ve helped identify at least one obvious class of meetings where that is true.

      Great insights!

  2. Meetings that are currently 30 minutes meetings can be 22/25 minutes
    Meetings that are currently 1 hour can be 50 minutes.

    I understand the 22 minutes to be a concept not a rule.

    For certain projects I book 15 minutes daily meetings early in the day. They usually take less time and if we all know there will be no updates, it’s just canceled.

    Regarding Phones: In my experience people carry blackberries and use them during the meetings because they don’t have time in between meetings.

    Another tip is:

    If a core person declines the meeting then reschedule the meeting. If not you will end up with two meetings. The first one useless.

    • I really like it when teams agree that any regularly scheduled meeting can be cancelled if there is nothing important on the agenda that week. The problem that can present, is when the meeting starts getting skipped too regularly. That might mean that communication that should happen is not, and people are assuming that everyone else knows something, which they probably don’t. Just watch out for that risk and everything should be OK.

      I also agree that there is little point in holding a meeting if someone core to the planned outcomes is not present. If you know that ahead of time, just reschedule everything. Regardless, everyone in the first two minutes of a meeting should ask, and answer, the question: do we have everyone here we need to achieve the planned objectives. If you don’t call the meeting off, or change its objectives. Whatever you do, don’t just keep meeting because you all agreed you would. That’s just dumb.

  3. Are meetings really a good tool for *communication*? Why do people have to be in the same room at the same time for communication to occur? An offline medium such as email seems superior to me.

    Meetings are great for brainstorming or decision-making with fast turnaround. Still, e-mail exchanges in preparation for a meeting gets everyone on the same page ahead of time and makes for shorter, more productive meetings.

    • Email is superior for many things, and is an excellent way to shorten the startup time for a meeting. In many cases it can replace a meeting entirely if the topic is simple. However, if it is likely that debate will occur, or you are hoping to extract ideas and suggestions from a group, my experience is that an in-person meeting provides more value in less time.

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