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?