Guest Post by Mike Kallet

Time:  You can’t control it, you can’t stop it, and you can’t create more of it.  But we can make better use of it.

Meetings in business are common, and for managers, often take up the majority of their time.   Most of my clients would agree that many of their meetings are inefficient, i.e., not a lot gets accomplished, or they get invited to meetings they don’t need to be at, or they have repeat meetings because the original meeting had no results.   Just imagine how much time can be saved with productive meetings and what you could do with that recovered time.  With just a few questions, you could easily recover 25% of meeting times, probably more, and at the very least, you’ll get a lot more done (which translates into saving time).

Here are five simple critical thinking questions that should be asked as you setup a meeting (or get invited to one).

  1. What is the purpose of the meeting and what is the expected outcome? This is the “why” of the meeting. Is the purpose to solve a problem, is it informational, is it to have a general discussion?   Is the outcome a list of discoveries, a solved problem, knowledge that’s shared?
  1. Who should be invited to the meeting and why? Before you send an invite out to a meeting, ask why each person should be there and what their contribution should be. Tell them that in the invite.  If you get invited to a meeting ask, what your expected contribution is.   Knowing why you’re invited to a meeting allows you to prepare for the meeting.  Imagine if everyone came to a meeting prepared?   Even if you’re the one calling a meeting, you should know why you’re at the meeting, what you need to do to prepare for the meeting and your role in the meeting.
  1. Can I accomplish the purpose of the meeting without having a meeting? Once you figure out the purpose (#1) and the who (#2), you might realize that a simple email might do.
  1. Before you end a meeting ask: What action items are there, who owns them, are they clear, when will they be accomplished, and what the follow-up is?
  1. With what metric will I measure the success of the meeting? If you measure your meetings, you’re more apt to focus on the goal of the meeting. Measurements might include:
    • Did you accomplish the goal?
    • Were the right people at the meeting?
    • Was the meeting necessary?
    • Is there a clear follow up to the meeting (action items, etc.)?
    • Perhaps ask everyone to fill out a quick yes/no survey before they leave the meeting with these questions:
      • Was the goal of the meeting clear?
      • Did the meeting accomplish the goal?
      • Was my presence in the meeting worth it?
      • Is the next step after this meeting clear?

The above looks like a lot of prep work just to have a meeting.  It does take a little time, but do the math.  If you have four meetings per day, each 50 minutes long,  and by preparing and asking these questions you could save 25% of the time, then you’ll save 50 minutes per day.  That’s about 250 hours per year … for every person in your meetings.   If you have more than 4 meetings a day, or can save 50% of the time, you might be saving over 500 hours of meeting time per person.

Asking and answering the above questions is not hard at all, so how come we don’t usually do this?   Here’s why:

(a) You must think and prepare, and it’s easier not to.

(b) it’s not necessary, i.e. who holds you accountable for efficient meetings.

(c) We don’t think we have time to organize … which is completely ridiculous because the time to organize is very small compared to the time saved.

Do yourself a favor.  Just try this for one meeting, just one.  I think you’ll like the result.

The Takeaway: It only takes a short time and a couple of questions to prepare for a meeting that will end up saving a tremendous amount of time, both yours and others in the meeting … and you’ll get a lot more done!

Mike Kallet is the founder and CEO of HeadScratchers (started in 2004), and author of Think Smarter – Critical Thinking to Improve Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills.  They conduct 1, 2 and 3 day critical thinking workshops for problem solving, decision making, leadership and innovation.  Prior to HeadScratchers Mike held numerous senior executive positions in technology companies.

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2 thoughts on “5 critical thinking questions to improve meetings

  1. Steve Morgan says:

    Hi Bob. Great post. I am going to experiment with these questions this week. I had been thinking about something like this when I read your post today. It was just what I was looking for and it helped to clarify my thinking on the topic. Thanks!

    1. Bob Tiede says:

      Thanks Steve for your encouragement! Please come back to share how these questions worked for you in your next meeting?

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