Designing better meetings

by Richard Banfield

I’m not a fan of meetings, but I really like catching up with my team. Very often that communication can be the highlight of my day. The exchange of ideas or transfer of knowledge is one of the reasons we prefer to come into the office. Meetings are part of the exchange. It’s where we find out about breakthroughs we’re making on projects or problems that we need to deal with. Having said that, meetings can become a massive time suck.

My frustration with meetings is mostly about the length of them, not that we have them. To avoid meetings from dragging on, it’s important for everyone to be on the same page and understand expectations. If you send out an invitation for a meeting, cover the basics in the invite. What’s the purpose of the meeting? Why were people invited? Do they need to prepare? Can they skip this one and just read the notes?

Some simple rules to keep everyone honest:

  • Be mindful of who really needs to be in design reviews or other meetings. If meeting notes and quick daily scrums can convey high points, then it’s usually not necessary to bring the entire team into review meetings.
  • If you don’t need to be in a meeting, don’t feel like you have to answer ‘yes’ to an invite. Graciously decline the invite, and, if necessary, explain why.
  • Give your team permission to leave a meeting if they are not gaining from the discussion or adding value to the meeting. If you feel like a meeting is wasting your time, feel free to leave. Vote with your feet.
  • Meetings should be as short as possible. Consider planning for 20 or 30 minutes as a rule for internal meetings when possible. Don’t fill 60 minutes just because that’s what everyone else does.
  • It’s hard to start/stop/start throughout the day. Be sensitive about scheduling and allow teammates long blocks of uninterrupted working time early in the day, and hold review meetings later in the day.
  • The best way to save time is to conduct informal company meetings over breakfast or lunch or later in afternoon. Lunch-and-learn are great times to get the team around the table for updates or announcements.
  • Making informal meetings part of the natural flow or during the breaks in the day helps people plan ahead. Try not to pull people out of the zone for meetings. Rather set them at natural break points or when you know people will want to have a change of pace.

The physical space you have a meeting in also determines the quality of the interactions. Think about having informal meetings while you walk through your building or around your block. High-top tables (with no chairs) force people to stand, and that suggests a shorter meeting. In our office space we have two bar-style areas that suggest standing versus sitting. Meetings in these areas would generally be informal or short.

One of the other things that we’ve done in our space is make the rooms where we meet clients feel more homey. This is a deliberate design consideration to help everyone feel relaxed and open. Each room has a theme that makes it look and feel like one of your favorite spaces at home. This makes the meetings that you have to have feel a little more enjoyable.

About Richard Banfield

Richard is a the CEO and co-founder of Fresh Tilled Soil. After completing a degree in Biology, Richard was attracted to the...