Leadership coach Mark Murphy has noticed a peculiar thing about meetings. In more ways than one, he says, "meetings are like gas; they will expand to fill whatever space you give them." People allocate a certain amount of time to a meeting, and that (or longer) is how long it lasts.
Why? Because we don't have any other way of knowing when that meeting is over, he claims.
Not only that, but when Murphy's firm conducted a study asking people who'd just left a meeting whether it had accomplished its original objective, the most common response was, "I have no idea."
The overwhelming majority of meeting attendees can't even tell you the real objective of a particular meeting, he declares. Agendas are not objectives because they don't tell you what accomplishments are expected. And if you don't know what you're supposed to accomplish, you don't know when you've achieved the objective, when you can go home or back to your desk.
One sentence fixes what's missing
The solution Murphy proposes is simple. It gives people a clear sense of what's expected and cuts out the wasted time. The person who calls the meeting, virtual meeting or conference call writes a Statement of Achievement that says, "As a result of this meeting, we will have achieved [insert your objective here]."
What if you can't identify a specific achievement that defines the meeting? Then, says Murphy, you should cancel that meeting.
Clarity more important than task
What the Statement of Achievement says is not as important as how clear it is. Everyone in the meeting must know exactly when they've achieved the objective, so choose concrete metrics such as settling on a new location or agreeing on a price for a proposal. Such a statement tells you exactly when you've succeeded so that you can leave the meeting and go on to another accomplishment.
In Murphy's practice, each client that implements the technique shortens meetings by an average of 15 minutes. Most 60-minute meetings don't have 60 minutes of content, he points out. And even if they do, if you tell people the meeting ends as soon as the objective is achieved, he says they cut out the chit-chat and tangents to focus on getting the job done and themselves out of the room.