Often time, the way a meeting is scheduled determines how successful it is.
This month’s productivity tips focus on how to transform your usual meetings into productive, short, and well-spent time – by reflecting on the old old ways of how they are usually conducted, trying to understand the design flaws no one questioned before.
Our featured leadership and time management influencers offer some tips to blow a fresh air into your stuffy, lengthy, and ineffective meetings.
Let’s dive in.
Parkinson’s Law in Meetings
A meeting is as long as it’s designed to be – start with the agenda, not time, and collaborate on making duration estimation.
Parkinson’s Law is stated as “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
In the context of meetings, the duration of the meeting is as long as it’s designed to be. If one sets out to have a 1-hour long meeting, it is usually the time it takes regardless of the significance of the agenda discussed.
For example : a manager wants to hold a 30-minute meeting to reach a decision, even though the decision can be reached in 5 minutes, chances are that the discussion will expand to fill the full 30 minutes.
To stop wasting time on this type of meeting, start with the agenda, not the duration.
Make it clear what the things are that you want to talk about – start with Purpose and Agenda, estimate beforehand, and together with other participants how long each item takes, then come up with the meeting duration.
Schedule meetings one day in advance so you get to determine how you spend the next foreseeable 24 hours as you feel like it.
Badly timed meetings are bad.
Warren Buffett has been said to usually not schedule his meetings more than one day in advance.
Someone who wants to meet him will be told to call in on Thursday if they want to meet him on Friday.
By doing this, he can determine how he wants to spend his time in the next 24 hours instead of weeks or months in the future. His schedule is therefore relevant, not prescient.
Try doing this for your next meetings, the ones when someone just asks for your time and attention – not dependent on other factors.
This won’t make you as successful as Buffett, but it gives you the power to decide how to spend your next foreseeable hours, and puts you into a more pro-active position in how to conduct your meetings.
Often we allocate 1 hour for most meetings, phone calls or appointments. Why should that be our standard allotment for so many things?
When we halve that slot – compressing time – people are more likely to: focus on critical points instead of stretching to reach the 1 hour by doing unnecessary tasks and having going-no-where conversations (think Parkinson’s Law).
Moreover, everyone will tend to be on time and come prepared (now that you only have 30 minutes!). Every minute makes a difference.
Most importantly, compressing time spent on meetings and other tactical work gives you more unstructured time to spend on activities and people you love.
Ask almost anyone in almost any organisation what they think of meetings and they’ll pretty much all say the same thing – “We hate meetings”.
Whilst there is a lot of feeling that meetings are bad, there is often very little or no solid data to back it up in the organisation.
Mayalytics is our brand new service to help any organisation measure and visualise their meeting culture and provides high quality quantitative and qualitative metrics to drive improvements.
Built to Visualise Meeting Culture
As we built Amazemeet we found we had lots of users but not many customers.
We also found that one of the key reasons for this was that decision makers in our users’ organisations needed data to see if they had a problem with meetings in their company.
Mayalytics was born with the belief that we could help leaders and decision makers improve their organisation by giving them useful metrics about their meeting culture.
8 Key Metrics Right out of the Box – for free
Using the data we get from your meeting invitation and feedback from specially devised micro surveys, we add a dash of Artificial Intelligence to make sense of the data and provide 8 key metrics about an organisation’s meeting culture:
Meetings per Month: the number of meetings per month across your organisation
Total Meeting Time per month (in hours): how much time meetings are taking.
Employees Meeting Time per month (in hours): how much employees’ time is spent in meetings.
Employees Meeting Wasted Time per month (in hours): how much employees’ time is wasted in meetings.
Meeting Costs per month (in US Dollars): how much meetings are costing the organisation per month
Meeting Wasted Cost per Month (in US Dollars): how much of the cost of meetings is wasted.
Employee Sentiment before meetings (in %)
Employee Sentiment after meetings (in %)
Incredibly Easy to Use
One of the best things about Mayalytics is how easy it is to use.
To get your Meeting Culture data flowing, all you do is what you’ve always done for meetings that you organise- simply invite an additional email address and we take care of everything else.
Getting started is super simple and quick.
Our “Getting Started” video explains everything you need to know to get it started.
Start using it right now and building up the data you need to get these useful metrics.
Last month, we’ve talked about meeting scheduling: how long should a meeting aim to be, or how can you go about proactively fitting the meeting into your schedule like Warren Buffett. Read the 4 tips here if you missed them.
Now, meeting is scheduled. We need to keep them going with high energy.
Everyone should be in a good mood to produce engaging discussions and make the meeting count.
To achieve that, here are some tips, from the easiest, seemingly obvious one: drinking enough water, to doing improvisational exercises – requiring a bit of planning but the result is exceptional.
Improv is not just for comedians – improvisational exercises have become popular in all kinds of organisation as an excellent tool for team building, meeting icebreaker or conference room de-stressor.
Here are a few games you can try today:
1. Catch: Toss an invisible ball around the room and everyone catches and passes it around. Add more balls if you’d like. Substitute balls for invisible babies, baguette, etc
2. Yes/No Contrapuntal: Two people take turns arguing different sides of a particular point, then switch sides to argue the opposite.
3. Conducted Story: Cooperate in order to narrate a made-up story together.
Suggest a title and everyone starts, one at a time, to contribute a sentence to the story, picking up the story from the same point of the previous person. End when the story reaches a natural conclusion.
Pricing can be complicated in any startup. Amazemeet is no exception, though we think a few things we have learned in trying to devise plans and prices recently have helped us get a better attitude to one of the most important aspects of launching a SaaS business.
Pricing can also be exceptionally simple – you can make numbers up out of thin air with little or no thought for whether anyone will pay that price for your product (what I call ‘the blue pill’).
We chose to do a bit more (what I call ‘the red pill’). More research and more educated guesses to get data we could make decisions on. More importantly, we wanted a process to emerge out of setting and reviewing our pricing so that we could use it over and over again.
We’d like to share where we are and what we learnt trying to price our service.
Where we are now
We recently finalised our last round of pricing experiments and created a new pricing model combining the best bits of the various experiments and what best supports our current phase of our strategy (i.e conversion).
So how did we get here?
I’ve tried to distil the chaos of the last few weeks into 5 key learnings. If you are interested in the stuff that isn’t written – the emotional rollercoaster, the techie bits of experimentation etc, then please ping me here via comment or on twitter (@amazemeet) and I’ll be happy to share that.
1. De-stress pricing through iteration and experimentation
Pricing can be stressful. We found the biggest source of stress was to believe that whatever model we came up with had to work for everyone, forever!
If there is one enduring strength in our team it is that we are almost entirely pragmatic and agile in our thinking and in our execution. This has helped us develop a healthy attitude to risk. We use iteration and experimentation all the time for everything.
To take the stress out of pricing, we’ve accepted that:
We can change it anytime if it isn’t working
We will review it regularly to see if it needs to change
It doesn’t have to be good forever, just until the next change.
Amazemeet is a B2B service, we enable businesses of all sizes to have better meetings. This range presents complexity when we try and price to suit all businesses and keep us sustainable. The complexity comes primarily from the different price levels that specific types will support (large corporations might support higher levels, whilst small, modest companies support more modest pricing).
Complexity also comes from how those segments purchase stuff – large corporations often have restrictive purchasing policies that prevent the person with the problem from easily purchasing their chosen solution. Smaller, more independent business often don’t have that constraint.
Our pricing model had to support the price levels that would have credibility with the segments and navigate the purchasing restrictions purchasers in each segment to help them buy.
So for smaller sized companies and independents (like freelancers) we introduced a monthly plan and for the larger corporations where the effort of approving a $5 purchase is about the same as seeking approval for a $500 purchase – we introduced yearly plans to help them get the most out of that approval step.
3. Understand Your Goals for Pricing and Design to Achieve Them
We started out thinking pricing was simply about setting a price for your product and generating revenue – we were pretty mistaken. Sure it is about revenue – and so much more.
So we thought a bit more deeply about our goals – or what we wanted our pricing model to help us achieve and came up with:
help us to grow our user base (so pricing is not a barrier to usage)
help users become customers (so there is clear value to being a subscriber).
To achieve the first goal, we experimented with a freemium model – offering a free tier to let people try out the service (we believe we are the only ones with a meeting design model like Amazemeet on the market – it takes some getting used to!). This worked well – a little too well perhaps.
It would be silly to think it was just because we had a free plan that people joined. We are also lucky to have a naturally viral product.
We are seeing a stable growth in users and in organisers, but we were not seeing any growth in customers. When we spoke to users about the value they were getting from using the platform, they told us of improvements in clarity and follow ups. We’ve known that users found the platform useful (this has been fairly consistent feedback since the beta in June 2015) – what we struggled to determine was if it was also valuable!
Despite the success of the freemium model in helping us grow the user base, it created a secondary problem for us – which we encouraged by not differentiating plan features early enough. So we replaced it with a 7-day fully featured trial experiment and put all our existing non-subscribed users on the trial.
Whilst this has had little or no effect on the rate of sign ups, it does help to funnel serious users of our platform to a subscription plan. But it is early days yet – the first set are expiring this week and we are eagerly awaiting the result of that experiment.
Incidentally we still have a free tier – it is just not publicly advertised. It offers unlimited meeting attendance but no meeting organising. It is the plan people revert to when they take no paid subscription.
4. Be willing to lose users – but understand why
There are few things more flattering than people signing up to use something you built.
But there are the right type of users and the wrong type of users. The right type of users use your service regularly – or as regularly as you intended. The wrong type use it much less than you intended and generally don’t come back and rarely tell you why.
As we experiment with Amazemeet – we recognise that the more specialised we become in how we design for the segments we are focusing on – including our pricing – we will inevitably lose some users. This is why it is super-important to not do too many things at once – because you want to know why you might lose those users.
For example, when we experimented with hard limits on the now-deprecated free plan, we saw some usage drop off. We recognised that there would be some users who wouldn’t upgrade to a paid plan once their 5 meeting limit was reached. We could even tell who might react like this by their usage patterns – they were not regular users of the platform and this restriction just persuaded them to stop.
This may be counter-intuitive, but I would rather have 1000 committed users than 10 million ghosts – and if I do anything to make the numbers that I base my decisions on that much clearer aligned with reality – I might just make better decisions.
Users are not all equally valuable. Knowing what makes a user valuable to your business helps you value and invest in that relationship better. Be prepared to cut back investment on those user relationships that are not helping you to your goal.
5. Regularly review the drivers of your plans and pricing and adapt them
We aren’t done yet and we aren’t there yet. ‘There’ being stable and growing revenue, but we have had the most positive feedback so far on usefulness and on value.
The goals of our pricing can change, the behaviours we want to encourage can also change. We will be moving to other segments – either geographically or otherwise. We might pivot our features or the vision. Each one of these changes will bring new drivers to our pricing model and cause us to review.
In anticipation of this – we ask ourselves every month – “Is this pricing model still the most effective one for our goals and constraints’. If the answer is ‘Yes’, we move on. If not, we go deeper and explore what the next iteration and experiments ought to be.
There you have it – this is how we are doing pricing in Amazemeet. At least for now. What would be a great help right now would be your honest opinion and probing questions about this.
Is there something that just doesn’t make sense about this? – I’d love to hear it.
How is your company applying collaboration, or teamwork, or collective creative process to the daily operation?
We normally have meetings for this: brainstorming, co-working, all sort of ad hoc or weekly, monthly, yearly etc. It’s permeate from board-level decision making close-door meeting to the open-space employee office, where they do their day-to-day, regardless of whatever job they have.
Collaboration can be both a cure and a curse to obtaining organizational effectiveness, specifically solving demanding problems.
As research showed, working together can be good for finding out unique information, for example: everybody tries and think of ways to generate revenues for the newly introduced product. You’ll get a bunch of different ideas from individuals, or “the clustered network”, as they would not try to copy each other, as the goal is to come up with various ways.
However, when it comes to the part of interpreting the conclusions from information, interesting things happen: social proof. If someone comes up with the solution, and more people agree to it, I might as well adopt that – everyone think it’s true, it must be true.
From brainstorming to decision making, collaboration helps along the way, but not all the time.
Normally, the way we come to make a decision requires a bit of time, reflection, evaluation of different criteria and scenarios; gathering evidence, data we don’t currently have at hands – and obviously this process needs full attention and focus in order to be effective. Shortcut like social proof, pressures, or just in the context of meetings just won’t make the cut.
In fact, in the working world right now, with all the technology and constant connectivity, we are only able to focus for 3 minutes at a time. And I don’t think this is enough to produce anything meaningful (probably just enough to scan and tweet out an article)
Meetings are good for finding out unique information and finalizing or making decisions after all the works are done. Lots of issues require more than one individual capability to be solved.
We should work together of course. But just like one doesn’t wear heels to run long distance, collaborate selectively.
Outputs are the “what”and outcomes “why”; always ask “Did your outputs make the difference that you expected in your outcomes?”
The 101: Outputs are what you produce e.g pizza, outcomes are what happen as a result of producing and consuming them e.g satisfy my hunger and impact are the effect they have, usually on the longer term e.g got fat.
Outputs are the ‘what’ and outcomes are the ‘why’.
So ask yourself ‘WHY am I doing WHAT I’m about to do’ and if you can’t answer that clearly consider not doing it.
If it is unclear/fuzzy ,take a little time to make it clearer.
In designing your meetings – consider the ‘Purpose’ as your ‘Outcome’ and the agenda and the actions as the ‘outputs’.
Like if you’re going to a fight, and know that there’s a 50% chance that someone, if not everyone, would get hurt pretty badly, would you wonder: what if there’s a better way to settle this dispute in a more peacefully and everyone can avoid getting injured.
My martial art teacher always reminds us: when somebody wanted to challenge you for a fight, or villainously approached you on the street – it doesn’t matter whether you can win the fight or not, you would say to them: “Stop, I don’t want this, go away”.
Ok, maybe it’s not that serious as getting injured, but the wasted costs of meetings in companies are quite significant, 37 billions in salary for US businesses. To understand in figure a bit more in a comparative way, check this out: 11 things the costs of wasted meetings could pay for.
In the workplace, wasted meetings bring about not only loss of money but also hours of possible productive time as people could have worked deeply on their own.
In a great TED talk , Jason Fried from Basecamp said that employees don’t like M&M (Managers and Meetings) because their work time is frequently being interrupted, and that’s why work doesn’t happen at work – they need a more suitable environment to create and produce.
At Amazemeet, all participants are expected to set Purposes and Agenda prior to the meeting, others can vote if this meeting is worth happening, or everything can be sorted out beforehand.
37 billion dollars is a lot of money, even by the standards of the ridiculously rich.
37 billion could purchase a major sports franchise. It could buy a major film studio and television production company .
To get even more specific, 37 billion dollars could purchase The Cowboys stadium 37 times over, roughly 30 percent of Apple’s entire stock, wipe out the debts of Panama, El Salvador and Costa Rica combined, 37 “Streets Of Monaco” Yachts, and contribute 9 times the budget of the United States toward The World Health Organization. Finally, 37 billion dollars could buy a one week holiday in Cancun for 10 million people who are reading this while fighting sleep in another terrible meeting.
At this very moment 37 billion collective sighs have gathered in unison in consideration of all the things that cannot be purchased. This might be considered an embellishment due to the fact that there are only 7 billion people on the planet, though who’s to say that there aren’t extra terrestrials out there sitting in awful meetings?
The point to consider here is that no matter how you look at it, 37 billion dollars is a lot of money, especially when it is discussed in consideration of wasted money; money wasted on company meetings.
If these findings weren’t glaring enough, consider that most employees have reported feeling more exhausted with higher stress levels at the perception of a higher workload while watching the seconds tick off the clock in a board room.
What’s more important to understand is how this much money can better be utilized. If theaverage cost of a meeting is $338, not including CEOs and other high paid business leaders, then wouldn’t logic follow that less meetings would be a good start?
Many of the so-called “brightest minds in business” haven’t even made this correlation, so congratulations; you’re well ahead of the curve!
To play devil’s advocate, less meetings could have an adverse effect on business if the required company information isn’t presented and communicated through the appropriate channels.
However, identifying a problem without a viable solution is no different than simply ignoring the problem, so let’s explore some alternatives to meetings.
There are wikis, email lists and groups, teleconferencing, and instant messaging.Collaboration apps and software are one of the more cutting edge forms of communication which allow the meeting to become a relic of the past.
The ability to share files, exchange information, and assign tasks are a convenience of modern technology which serve the same purpose as a meeting, though much more efficiently.
The statistics are glaring and if a business is to sustain and grow, it must evolve. Employees don’t want them, managers can’t afford them, and business has long since passed them by.
37 billion dollars is a lot of money, even by the standards of the ridiculously rich. What is the significance of this number? This is the amount of money that is wasted each year on business meetings, thwarting the effectiveness and efficiency in good business practice. Consider this figure in context with the following items that could be purchased with 37 Billion dollars.
1. Major Sports Franchise
At this price, the sports enthusiast could basically take their pick of any of the major sports franchises. We’re not just talking about consistently losing franchises either. This much money could easily purchase a certain Super Bowl winning football team roughly 30 times over!
Ever wanted to star in a major motion picture or television series? 37 Billion could buy Paramount Studios 3 and 1/2 times. So instead of choosing between a movie or a television show, why not star in both?
The likelihood of becoming President Of The United States is slim to none though, who’s to say you can’t live like one? For 37 billion dollars you could not only purchase the White House; you could erect 140 replicas in any city, anywhere.
Why not park one of your Air Force series planes on the largest and most expensive yacht in the world? Choose from any of the 37 versions of the “Streets Of Monaco” Yachts that will always be ready for you to use.
While 37 billion can certainly buy a lot of toys and frivolous impulse purchases, it can also do some good. Why not take all that money and wipe out the debts of Panama, El Salvador and Costa Rica combined? Yes, you absolutely could!
10. The United States Budget For The World Health Organization
Philanthropy can become contagious, so help out the US by covering their budget toward The World Health Organization. For 37 Billion dollars, you could cover the costs for the next 9 years.
11. Paid Holiday To Cancun
Most of us could most likely afford this now, if we could ever get away from the office. This isn’t a solo trip however. This is an all expense paid vacation for you and 10 million of your closest business associates. Time to get out of those board meetings and into the sunshine of an exotic beach.