Various management studies concur that most organizations and businesses chronically suffer from too many meetings and not enough time to get work done. There is just not enough time in the day to fit it all in. Harvard Review and Inc., among other publications, reported that management is increasingly buried in meetings. The reasons are numerous and complex, but the bottom line is that leadership want more control or believe that endless meetings help clarify, unify and accomplish results. The same can be said for churches. I know that I’ve called and led more than my share of meetings, many of which were probably unnecessary or not particularly effective.
Steve Jobs of Apple fame knew how to fix this, and it is remarkably simple. He knew what meetings to keep and which to cut. Just as important, he knew how to run them efficiently and effectively.
Steve Job’s Meeting Rule of 3’s
With some tweaks, here’s the “Meeting Rule of 3’s” inspired by Job’s approach to leadership meetings.
- Keep the participation list small. Jobs felt that 3-5 people is ideal. His reasoning? Typically, the more people you have in a meeting the less productive it is. Too many voices become a sea of noise and it’s less likely you will get anything accomplished. Also, as you craft your invitation list know exactly what each person’ stake and role in the meeting will be and what they might contribute. If they cannot contribute, then cut them from the list. Anyone else that needs to know can, for informational purposes, be sent a copy of the minutes or a recording after the meeting.
- Keep the agenda short. Jobs felt that agendas should be kept to no more than 3 items. This number allows for concentrated focus. With more than 3 items on an agenda, you’re likely to chase rabbits of unrelated topics and experience side conversations. The key is to prioritize and make sure all 3 agenda items are clearly connected to the defined purpose of the meeting.
- Keep the length to no more than 30 minutes. Jobs knew that a key to effective meetings is to keep them short. You may think that the substance of a given meeting demands a bigger time slot, but research tells us that isn’t so. For most of us our attention span is shorter than that of a hummingbird and our mental stamina is unable to sustain in depth or analytical discussion for very long. If you keep meetings to no more than 30 minutes and parcel information out in digestible chunks of several minute segments, you’re more likely to leave the meeting with meaningful input and broad comprehension.
Another general guideline that Job’s followed is around the question of need. Do you really need this meeting? Ask yourself the following questions; if the answer is no to all of them, don’t schedule one.
- Does the meeting (or a given agenda item) require feedback from others, or is it just informational?
- If I do need input/feedback, is a meeting a more time-effective way to get it than a message, phone call, email or personal contact?
- Would a meeting provide anything that an email or message wouldn’t?
Job’s also found the importance of:
- Follow up memos with a summarization of the discussion and its conclusions, any work assignments decided upon, clarification of deadlines and accountability
- Sending agendas in advance and allowing attendees to have input on what goes on the agenda.
As a final general guideline research shows that leaders should aim to schedule no more than 1 minute of meeting time for every 3 minutes of work. This means that no more than a quarter of anyone’s day should be spent in meetings.
Posted on September 20, 2022