Odd-sized Meetings: One way to make meetings better

We did not need the pandemic to hate meetings — they were already the villains of work. So while the pain got a lot stronger, it was always there.

Also, who are we kidding? Meetings are here to stay. Now more than ever, in a hybrid world when it’s absolutely impossible to 'bump' into someone in the hallway, orchestrating moments to connect or sync are necessary.

So first let’s note what makes meetings bad.

  • Most people invited, lack context of the topic being discussed and spend the meeting time catching up
  • Too many people get invited with no clarity about the role they play in it
  • Sometimes used as a political tool to navigate interpersonal issues between two people or teams
  • Tend to go off-track and end with no actions or decisions, therefore the ROI of the meeting is zero
  • When the ROI is zero, everyone feels like they wasted time away from their actual 'work'

While the ideal solution for everyone is to have minimal or no meetings, saying 'no' to meetings… if you can’t escape meetings, then here is a possible solution to make them manageable.

So here goes…

Make your meetings odd-sized.

Before we dive in, there are two factors that this idea is based on:

  1. We can be really efficient if we are bound by limitations (such as 'time’) out of our control
  2. When there is no shared intent everyone defaults to their own agenda

So the next time you book a meeting with someone, time block your calendar invite in the following way:

  • 20 min meetings instead of 30 mins
  • 40 min meetings instead of 1 hour
  • 70 min meetings instead of 1.5 hours

So what works about odd-sized meetings?

  • Shows respect for other peoples time: This may be one of the biggest unsaid issue that people have with meetings. Because most of the time, meetings are not really opt-in. You get an invite and now an hour of your day is controlled by someone else. So by making meetings odd sized, you give people some of this involuntary time, back.
  • Gives time to context switch: In an office environment, while you may have back to back meetings, just walking from one room to another, stopping at the coffee machine or water cooler gave yyou the time to process the previous meeting and gave you the time to mentally prepare for the next one.
  • Increases productivity of participants in the current & their next meeting: If you allow time for people to mentally wind down from their previous meeting and take time to get into the frame of mind required for the next, they will be more productive. If they are more productive then you achieve what you want in your meeting as opposed to them coming into meetings as a hot mess and then being indecisive, which usually leads to another meeting.
  • Forces conciseness: Let’s face it we all spend the first 5 mins just waiting for people to join from previous meetings. So the 1 hour you’ve booked is effectively 40 mins anyway. Therefore in reality, the conversation you want to have can be completed within the limited time and therefore keeping the meeting short should ideally force you to.
  • Signals a wind down period: In the worse case scenario, odd-sized meetings act like a snooze button. It makes you aware of the moment that you need to stop the meeting at and turns the last 15 mins to focus on the takeaways and actions that everyone needs to be responsible for.
  • Bonus / Makes your meeting standout: An interesting side-effect. If your meeting is the only one that does not have an end time that is uncomfortable is squeezed in between two meetings or sticks to next meeting - it is visually going to standout on the calendar.

This won’t solve ALL your meeting woes

Of course this is not a one-size-fits-all idea. I’m not a believer of that concept, as life is way more nuanced for that. So there are going to be times when the long meeting is required, but hopefully if you apply the 80/20 principle, the long meetings will only be necessary 20% of the time.

So here’s wishing you good luck for your next meeting. I hope it is short, intentional, efficient and productive.

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Gaurabh Mathure

Gaurabh Mathure

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Re-imagining employee experiences for the modern workforce as the as the Co-founder & Head of Product at Tydy (www.tydy.co)