Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Hands up, who loves work meetings?

Stupid question? You’re probably rolling your eyes, not raising your hand in affirmation. A slew of workplace memes and Dilbert cartoons mock the stereotype of compulsory, oppressive, time-wasting endurance sessions. Everyone hates meetings.

There’s definitely a problem here. According to research by Steven Rogelberg and his colleagues, the amount of time we spend in meetings has increased dramatically over the past 50 years. In 2007 (ancient history!), leaders spent an average of 23 hours a week in meetings, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s. What is happening in all of those meetings, and is there some alternative that would serve the purpose better?

The solutions drill down to a combination of self-awareness, connectedness, and intentionality.

In larger organizations, regular meetings gather like dust in dark corners, cluttering up your calendar: the weekly status meeting with the boss, the biweekly project review meeting, the monthly committee working session… We can be more intentional about the way we work together, about the behaviors we engage in as we work together. Examples include group work patterns like mob programming, “working out loud,” and regular emotion checking-ins. So we don’t have to carve out prespecified fixed-length time blocks to share status with each other. Could you be more intentional about these meetings that interrupt the flow of getting the work done?

Focus meetings on strategic issues, like conflict resolution, planning, and resourcing. You’ll end up with less time wasted listening to reports that we could consume when it’s best for our workflow and individual priorities.

Lots of “best practice” articles recommend having a clear agenda. But preset agendas are often huge lists of numerous content areas, rather than expectations of specific outputs. Effective intention-setting goes way beyond that. Framing an agenda as a specific action and desired end-point makes it much more effective to achieve the goal. Compare “office relocation” to “choose one of these three leasing options for new office,” with details of each option attached for pre-reading.

Here’s one behavior you can try with your team to improve every meeting: the Check Out protocol. It guarantees that everyone present is there because they want to be, not because they have to be, because they can opt out at any time. They can even opt-out before the meeting begins! The agreement is that we are all responsible for our own outcomes and for the group’s shared outcome, and each of us individually is best suited to decide whether to attend. We can even to change our minds partway through a meeting and Check Out before it’s done. This element of the Core Protocols is making its way into the mainstream, at Tesla Motors and elsewhere.

The Meet protocol is the best way to make every meeting great. It’s a simple meeting outline:

  1. Each individual in the group checks in with their current emotional state and says what they want—what their goal is—for this meeting.
  2. Each individual states how far away they are from achieving their stated meeting goal.
  3. The group as a whole pursues the goal they are currently farthest away from having achieved.
  4. Check Out as soon as you’ve achieved your goal. Don’t waste your time or anyone else’s.

Emotion checking in at the beginning of the meeting is a powerful way to create alignment and connection. Michael Sahota and Audree Tara Sahota, authors of the book, Emotional Science, go one step further: they launch every meeting with a group meditation. They describe this as ‘“Check In on steroids.” It is a powerful way of coming together as a team and setting their intention for the upcoming conversation. It ensures every meeting happens in the most emotionally intelligent, effective way possible.

If you’ve been trained in the Dilbert School of Torturous Meetings, group meditation at work might sound strange. But outside of the workplace, you might have experienced group meditation and breathing. There is something incredibly powerful about simply breathing together in synchronicity. It amplifies the neurological effects of solo meditation. Individually, meditation brings your brain and limbic system into congruence. Group meditation amplifies that to team scale. We start to breathe at the same rhythm as each other. Our hearts begin to beat in synchrony. Group meditation establishes a highly-optimized start to a team conversation focused on results. It creates the positive energy needed to focus on the group’s highest purpose, even when challenging and difficult conversations are required for the team to move forward together.

The Sahotas’ work also highlights the importance of sharing and listening to every participant in the conversation before discussing or doing the work.

Many recommendations for improving meetings focus on the role of the meeting facilitator. Effective moderation of a group discussion goes way beyond managing timekeeping and plowing through the list of agenda items. Let the group facilitate themselves. Let each person participate fully, to actively share their views on a matter before anyone else has gone deep into their topic or position. It’s potent. It ensures that all voices are heard. It brings even the most introverted or shy person’s voice into the conversation, ensuring that they’ll continue sharing their knowledge with the team throughout the work session.

75% of us haven’t received any formal training in how to run meetings. The Core Protocols offer advice not only on facilitating effective meetings but on asking your teammates for help to make meetings (and everything else!) better. Play Perfection Game with each other on your meetings and figure out for yourselves how to make them better. Your improvement ideas will be custom-tuned to your team and your organization. They’ll be more insightful than any external training.

And you’ll be working incrementally toward creating meetings that work well for everyone present. Great meetings deepen your connectedness and effectiveness as a team—instead of wasting each others’ time and causing stress.

That’s a goal worth pursuing.