Too real. We hear this expressed by remote leaders all the time. And usually it's followed by:
And while, yes, more productive meetings is one key to solving this painful puzzle, there's another problem that goes hand-in-hand with productive meetings that is just as important and talked about far less.
We've got two challenges to solve...
1. Scheduled meetings are only one form of the synchronous time teammates need to come together and drive impact as a team. So we need to actually make more time for other types of synchronous work.
2. Unproductive meetings are a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped, so that we don't need to keep adding more and more and more scheduled meetings to get the work done. And, so that we have more time for other forms of synchronous connections.
So the need to solve the unproductive meeting problem is even greater than we once thought.
Teams need other forms of synchronous connection
The scheduled meeting we put on the calendar is only one form of the synchronous connections that a high performing remote team needs.
They also need the unscheduled, spontaneous synchronous time. Say what?
Spontaneous, synchronous connections are brief, unscheduled interactions that allow team members to connect with each other in natural, authentic ways.
These between meeting connections can be as simple as a quick chat after a meeting, joining a conversation spontaneously, or having a shared virtual coffee break. They give team members the opportunity to ask for help, share ideas, or collaborate on work in new and innovative ways.
And.. they have a massive impact on team cohesion, communication, overall productivity, business results and employee retention. Dang.
We used to get this for free in the physical office
And now that we're all remote (wahoo!), we need to intentionally add these moments back into our remote team's calendar. Our teams need a place for this to naturally occur. And we need to make sure our digital team's tech stack has the tool to enable it naturally.
Which puts even more pressure on making sure our scheduled meetings are productive.
So let's get down to business.
Productive Meeting Guide From Successful Remote Teams
Successful remote teams have broken productive meetings down in three phases.
- Before the meeting
- During the meeting
- After the meeting
All three phases need to be tight for the meetings themselves to be considered productive. Let's step through their best tips for how to nail each phase.
1. Know what you need to accomplish
If we were to pull out the strongest opinion the high-performing teams we work with have, it would be: know exactly why you're meeting.
Like, before the meeting is even scheduled 😉
If we can't say why we're meeting, and what we need to achieve, how can we have a productive meeting?
Here's a template one of our remote teams uses to a) pass the 'do we need to schedule this' sniff test, and b) set it up for success, if so.
2. Define who you need in the room to achieve it
Often, we can get caught up in inviting people so that they don't feel left out, can get information...
Or because we otherwise lack a framework for deciding who needs to be invited.
On the surface, it doesn't sound so bad to invite a few extra people to a few extra meetings. But the costs are staggering if meetings aren't productive.
1. Each teammate attending costs time and money in switching costs, attending the meeting itself, assigned action items, follow up conversations, and switching back to their other work.
2. If a meeting isn't productive, then more time is needed from each attendee to achieve the purpose.
3. The compounding cost of this happening again and again, meeting after meeting, week over week is.. disturbing.
If meetings aren't productive AND drag extra people down with them, we're talking dozens of hours and thousands of dollars from lost productivity. Per teammate. Per week. Ya, terrifying.
So what are successful teams doing to prevent this vicious cycle?
Teams we work with have figured out a brilliant question that helps them identify who they need, and no more than that.
"Who are the specific people we can't achieve the purpose without?"
This question is brilliant because it aligns the 'who' with the purpose, and ensures it's just the right people, and no more.
3. Walk in prepared
The next phase of productive meetings starts when everyone walks through that virtual office meeting room door.
As each person walks in the virtual door, what does it look like for them to be prepared to achieve the purpose of the meeting within the allocated time?
This tip is mighty, because it gets rid of those 10, 15, 20, 30... minutes at the start of many meetings where everyone is on different pages.
So, how do successful teams make sure everyone walks in prepared to start achieving the meeting purpose from minute 0?
4. Avoid communication time sinks
Communication challenges that are meeting productivity killers are the ones that are hard to see.
The biggest culprits of time loss hiding in plain sight are:
1. When people think they're talking about the same thing, but they're talking about two different things
2. When people think they're talking about two different things, but they're talking about the same thing
3. Straying from the purpose of the meeting
Even with a clear purpose, it's easy to get sidetracked by ideas, achieving other purposes, or talking about things that are best handled outside of the meeting.
What do teams do to avoid running into these oh-so-real communication challenges and productive meeting torpedos?
They ask a few golden questions regularly, throughout the meeting...
"To make sure we're talking about the same thing, you're saying..."
"It sounds like you're talking about ... Is everyone else talking about the same thing?"
"This sounds important. Do you see this as helping us achieve our purpose, or is it best handled after this meeting?"
5. Walk Out with next steps and due dates
First, make sure the meeting purpose has been achieved.
The worst thing in the world is if a bunch of action items are made for a meeting that ended in something other than the intended purpose. Ah!
Then, make sure..
1. There are clear, documented next steps for after the meeting
2. Each step has a single owner
3. All next steps have by-when dates
Now, the meeting purpose is achieved. And, the team is already shifting into the next action phase before even leaving the room.