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The meeting rabbit-hole dilemma

by | Apr 8, 2021 | Meetings

Picture it: It’s March 2021 and you’re invited to a 30 minute meeting to discuss a new initiative. There’s 4 topics to be covered, and several stakeholders on the call. Halfway through discussing the first topic, the copywriter goes on a tangent about Oxford commas. They won’t budge until everyone verbally commits to removing them. By the time it’s resolved, you’ve got 4 minutes left in the meeting to cover the other 3 topics. The group rushes through and still runs 15 minutes over. Worst. meeting. ever. #couldhavebeenanemail.


Meetings don’t have to be this way. Enter: meeting timers. Timing meetings and your agenda sections can change the dynamic of a meeting and can give power to those who would usually not share. But timing should be considered thoughtfully as you don’t want to set a meeting that is too short or too long for its purpose. Here are the steps to go about it:


1. Choose the right length for your meeting based on the why

First, set a goal for the meeting: For example, “Have a clear roadmap to finalize our website”. This will set the “why” for the meeting and it gives you an idea of what sections/topics you will need to cover in your meeting in order to meet that goal. NOTE: It is always better to overestimate your meeting and finish early if you can. It’s like a little time-gift to your team.


2. Time your agenda sections.

Now that you have a goal for your meeting and the agenda sections you would like to go over, you can now start thinking of timing your agenda sections. Knowing and understanding each section of your agenda for your meeting can give you a good estimate of how long each section should take. For example:

Check-in (5mins)

Topics to go over (45mins):

  • Copy (~15)
  • Design (~15)
  • Development (~15)

Action items: Next steps (10 mins)


3. Call out when someone goes off-topic.

Be aware, tangents are a thing! Someone will mention something that reminds someone else of a story of something that happened over the weekend or of their beautiful dog—true story. But cutting someone off because they went on a tangent can sometimes make things awkward, so make sure to have a safe word that you share with your team before the meeting. This will show that you trust your team in holding each one accountable and in some way, can make even the most quiet person participate. In our team, we use the word dandelion (you are in the weeds). As humans we love to talk and interact with others, so make the word be funny or relatable to your team. 


Tip: Having a check-in/welcome section at the beginning of the meeting lets everyone get the chit-chat out of their system and stay better focused throughout the meeting.


Timing your agenda sections can have a positive effect with your team and yourself. For me, I have been able to assign each section of my agenda in and it has made it more comfortable for my team to raise awareness when we go off topic. In the end, it keeps us all accountable and respectful of our times as we all have s**t to do.


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