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Why Effective Time Management Requires A Team Effort And More, Not Fewer Meetings

If two people take 10 minutes to resolve an issue, that’s 20 people minutes.

If they do it in a meeting with eight others present, it jumps to 100 people minutes.

And if a couple of those people ask questions to “help” and the time expands from 10 to 20 minutes, you’ve now burned over three people hours.

You can only do one of four things in any meeting at any time: learn, contribute, decide or waste time.

Time management is about focusing on the most important and minimizing time wasted on the unimportant. The multiplier is to manage time as a team and minimize the combined team’s wasted time instead of focusing on each individual. The tragedy of the common applies here because each individual’s making the best use of their own time inevitably makes the entire team run out of time.

The implication of this is

  • More, shorter meetings, ideally each with one single agenda item.
  • Fewer people in each meeting, ideally only those necessary and sufficient for that one single agenda item.

More meetings each with fewer people

I used to think the answer was fewer meetings. I was wrong. If you batch meetings together, you’re going to have multiple agenda items at each meeting and inevitably have people present for agenda items that are wasting their time

Instead, consider each agenda item as a separate meeting.

Allow only as much time for each meeting as is required to fulfill the objective.

Invite only those necessary and sufficient to fulfill the objective. This means invite only those that either:

  • Need to be present to learn – with a strong bias to letting people learn outside the meeting by reading or watching a video at a time convenient for them.
  • Need to be present to contribute – with a strong bias to letting people contribute ahead of the meeting by writing down their input or sharing it with someone else at a time convenient for them. If you have multiple people in a meeting with the same perspective, you’ve failed here.
  • Need to be present to help make the decision: generally the person who can say yes (economic buyer) with those that can say no with their words (technical buyers) or with their action or inaction (user buyers) or provide important input (coaches) having made their contributions in advance.

The overriding requirement here is for teammates to trust each other to value their different perspectives, represent absent perspectives in meetings, and inform each other after meetings.

This is about moving from agendas like this:

Team meeting (60 minutes)

  1. Agenda item 1
  2. Agenda item 2
  3. Agenda item 3
  4. Agenda item 4
  5. Agenda item 5

To meetings like this

  • Meeting 1 – objective – attendees A and B (10 minutes)
  • Meeting 2 – objective – attendees A, B and C (15 minutes)
  • Meeting 3 – objective – attendees B and C (10 minutes)
  • Meeting 4 – objective – attendees B, C, and D (15 minutes)
  • Meeting 5 – objective- attendees C and D (10 minutes)

Note attendees E, F, and G don’t need to attend at all as others can represent their perspectives.

High performing team

Note also that this applies only once the team is functioning as a high performing team. In a team’s early days you’ll want the entire team in more of the meetings so they can learn about each other as well as the various agenda items. Learning about each other is not wasted time.

You know you’re getting there when people stop worrying about being left out of meetings and start questioning whether they are really needed. They change from saying “I need to be in that meeting” to asking if they’re really needed or if someone else can represent their view and brief them afterwards.

Trust is earned over time. When you get to the point where team members trust each other’s differential talent, knowledge, skills, experience, caring and sensibilities, then they can manage time as a team to make the best use of everyone’s time and make the entire team more efficient and effective.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #791) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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