You have a meeting scheduled for 60 minutes, but you only have 45 minutes of material. So do you quit after 45 minutes? 19 times out of 20 the meeting will go 60 minutes. 45 minutes worth of content will somehow end up being a 60 minute meeting. Why does it work this way? It’s a simple law of physics.

Thanks to Boyle and Bernoulli, we know that…

A gas will expand to fill the available space.

So that little pocket of oxygen in your office right now has automatically expanded to fill your entire room.

This is the way meetings function. They are like gas, (in more ways than one). They will expand to fill whatever time you allow them to fill. The reason the 30 minute meeting will last 60 minutes, is because we have no other gauge to determine when it’s over. The schedule said one hour, so in one hour we are done.

Parkinson’s Law applies as well:

Work (or a meeting) expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

One group did a study of people coming out of meetings. The people were asked, “Did your meeting accomplish its objective”? The most common answer was not yes or no. The most common answers were, “I have no idea”, or “I have no clue”. This number was even higher after virtual meetings.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if the meeting attendees could articulate the meeting’s objectives? Caution: You can still have an agenda without a clear objective.

Ponder these questions:

  • If you don’t know the objective of the meeting—not just on the surface but the real one—how will you know if the meeting was a success or failure?
  • If you can’t describe the objective, then how would you know when it is achieved? How in the world would you know when to call off the meeting other than an alarm that says the meeting is over?

Whether an organization is big or small, the meeting seems to last 60 minutes! And the reason is because they have not instituted a way of measuring the “accomplished” objective. Institute a statement of achievement for every meeting.

As a result of this meeting we will have achieved [insert your objective]”.

This is not about being elaborate. Just state it as simply as you can. If you can’t get specific, then perhaps the meeting should be canceled until you can. The objective could also be brainstorming on a particular topic.

The key is that everybody knows what’s trying to be accomplished, and knows when it is.

Time is not a good metric for assessing the success of a meeting. What are some examples of legitimate statements of achievement?

  • Going over 10 potential applicants for a position
  • Choosing a Request For Proposal (RFP)
  • Making a decision on packaging a product
  • Brainstorming on a way to streamline a process, etc.,

Sometimes the agenda can be made in real time. In other words the agenda is made when we meet, and then we stick to it.

Research has shown that you can save 15 minutes on average from every meeting by using this approach. And that adds up!

This approach will eliminate what Patrick Lencioni refers to as Meeting Stew, where everything is thrown in the pot with no clear focus.

“We’ll have one big staff meeting and just throw it in the stew.”

To have an effective meeting, remember these 4 things:

  1. Be clear on purpose
  2. Focus on outcomes
  3. Be mindful of the time
  4. Have a written agenda

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that meetings are a waste of time. They are vital to the success of any organization or group. Having stated objectives will help teams accomplish more and be a happier group.

When was your last effective meeting? What gets in the way? We’d like to hear from you.