2021 Meeting Audit: Design Your Team's Meeting Rhythms Now

By Jessica Wishart

2021 Meeting Audit: Design Your Team's Meeting Rhythms Now

As we head into 2021, now is the perfect time to step back and take a hard look at your team's meeting auditmeeting rhythms. Much like your junk drawer at home, some of us collect meetings over time—a weekly team huddle, a 1:1, a coffee break, a
 project meeting, a recurring training session, a retrospective, a cross-functional alignment meeting, etc.—and then our schedules are full and we forgot why we ever thought we needed those things in the first place (ok, the drawer thing might not be a perfect analogy, just an unrelated personal problem for me to deal with). Anyway, the point is that your new year is a new opportunity to take a hard look at your meeting calendar and do a meeting audit.
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Here's a real, concrete exercise for you. Pull up your calendar and look at the next two to four weeks. For each meeting, open up that invite and write down the answers to these questions:
 
  1. What is the purpose of this meeting?
  2. What is the desired outcome of this time?
  3. How long should it take to get to this outcome?
  4. Who should be invited (and are they)? 
As you are reviewing your scheduled meetings looking at the answers to these questions, you can sort each meeting into categories: a simple Start, Stop, Keep exercise.
 
Stop:
If you can't clearly articulate the purpose and outcome of each meeting, you need to take a hard look at why you are doing it. I'd argue that you should stop having any meetings you can't articulate a clear purpose for.
 
If you don't have a concrete outcome, you could still make a case for the meeting if you do have a clear purpose. For example, if your coffee break is to foster team morale and give people space to connect virtually and build remote team health, you should keep it even if you don't have a specific, hard outcome.
 
But if you don't have a purpose for the meeting, it probably has to go. List out all the meetings you will stop doing, and go ahead and cancel those invites. Ahhh! Feels great.
 
Keep:
Meetings that have a clear purpose and a specific outcome can stay. Just look harder at the answers to questions 3 and 4 above.
 
Be sure to invite the right people, and only the right people. Avoid wasting time having to catch up relevant parties later or put off key discussions because all the decision makers are not present. You can ask team members to do this exercise, too; if they can't think of a purpose for being in the meeting, perhaps you can set them free and carry on without that person if the meeting has value for the other participants.
 
Think hard about how long it will actually take you to achieve your meeting result. If you want to map out all the marketing emails to clients for the next month, what's a realistic timeframe to get that done? Avoid scheduling meetings for an hour if they really only take 30 minutes, for example. You'll find that we have a tendency to stay on schedule, so if you plan for shorter meetings, you might accomplish the result in a shorter period of time. That being said, don't fall for the trap of trying to be efficient over being effective; if the discussion will take 90 minutes to hash out, don't schedule an hour and then stress everyone out by going over time.
 
Start:
Now that you've hopefully identified some meetings that can be eliminated going forward, take a hard look at what's left on your Keep list. Is there anything that's missing? I know the point is to free up time for getting actual work done and not add more meetings to the schedule for your team, but the overall purpose of designing meeting rhythms for your team is to get the work done in a more effective way—not to have meetings just to have them.
 
Being intentional about designing rhythms so that the right conversations are happening with the right people at the right time is where the magic happens. Think of yourself as the architect of your team's effectiveness: if they were going to achieve amazing things together this year, what meeting structure can you design to support making it happen? Besides what's on the calendar that you've decided to keep, what else might be needed to help the team succeed this year?
 
At Rhythm Systems, we've been helping companies figure this out for over a decade, and we've learned some best practices along the way. Here are the meeting rhythms we recommend to our clients:
 
  1. Annual Strategic Planning with the Executive Team (at least once a year)
  2. Quarterly Planning for the Executive Team and departments (every 13 weeks)
  3. Monthly Meetings for Leaders
  4. Weekly Adjustment Meetings for the Executive Team, departments, and cross-functional teams (as needed)
  5. Daily Huddles for teams (you can be liberal in how you read "daily" here - some teams find every other day or even once a week to be effective)
  6. 1:1s with direct reports (the cadence for these is really up to you—do you need to meet with everyone weekly, or is monthly or quarterly better?)
 
This isn't a one size fits all, copy/paste job—it's a guide to help you think through the best meeting rhythms for your team. Customize it to fit what your company and your team need now, which might look different this year than it did a year ago if you are a remote or hybrid team due to COVID-19. The point is to be intentional; don't just go on autopilot and show up to the meeting because it's on the calendar because it's always been on the calendar. Think about the team's time and design a rhythm that is going to propel your team forward, faster, not stuck in a rut having the same conversations, wondering when you can get the real work done.
 
Once you figure out the right meetings for your team, schedule them out now for the whole year. Your team's calendar is only going to get busier, so block time now for the meetings that matter. And, free up any calendar space for meetings that may have outlasted their usefulness. You probably will need to have some team building time intentionally set aside as well. If your team health is important to you, setting aside time for building team health (whatever that looks like for your team) is how you show the team you mean it when you say team health matters.
 
Good luck, and happy auditing!
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