Monday, May 28, 2007

Meeting Effectiveness

Recently I attended a European-Indian business summit and I was representing my company Valtech. Many Italian, Spanish companies were visiting India and were look for possible business partners.
The meeting slots were pre planned/agreed and were circulated prior to the meeting. The time slot was time boxed for 30 minutes each. Separate stalls were set up for each of the EU companies, and during the specified time slot, the representatives from the Indian firm would go to the stall and have a discussion for 30 minutes.

3 of us from Valtech, met nearly 10 companies in 2 days. An important thing I noticed in the summit was the time boxing of meetings for 30 minutes. I have never seen such an efficient meeting happening from my earlier experience. During the meetings with prospective customers, we were able to make out if this is a make or brake deal and within the first few minutes itself.

Somewhere I read that most of the decision happens within the first 15 minutes of the meeting. So, I think any meeting intended towards making some decisions, would be effective it
  • it is time boxed
  • lesser the time, the better
More info. on meeting effectiveness
In one of the Agile forums, Mark Herschberg gave the following tips to improve the meeting effectiveness:
1) Set fixed time limits. I learned this from scrum meetings where we had a
kitchen timer with 15 minutes to force everyone to be efficient. Even for
longer meetings this has been found to be effective. Even if your meetings
aren't any shorter. the act of having a timer visible on the table and
counting down helps to focus people.

2) Have an agenda. Often meetings don't have a clear agenda. Even if
people know what the meeting is for (e.g. our weekly status meeting) it can
be a bit vague and fuzzy. Every meeting should require the following:
a) These are the issues to be discussed
b) These are the questions we will have answered by the end of the meeting

3) Have a clear understanding of when questions should be discussed. Often
people get side tracked as various issues come up in meetings and people
wander down a particular thread. By knowing when and where an issue can be
discussed, it's easier to say, "that's a very good issue, why don't we
address that in X meeting which is for such topics." Everyone needs to know
what meetings there are and what each are for. I'm debating creating a
"catch all" meeting once a week at my current project so if there's anything
we miss, we can always say, "put it in the catch all meetings."

4) Build a culture of efficient. Make everyone want to have fast, efficient
meetings, and empower everyone to be able to suggest moving a topic to a
different venue,

5) Recognize that there is value in inefficiency. Fast, to the point
meetings, while generally effective, sometimes miss that creative spark that
comes from getting side tracked, from the random threads that usually are a
waste of time, but once in a while yield a great insight. (This is one of
the reasons I'm looking at a "catch all" meeting to capture some of the free
form creativity.)

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