Five Ideas for More Efficient Meetings

January 23, 2019
By Darren Dolcemascolo

What is a lean meeting?  I am not referring to a kaizen event or rapid improvement event.  I am talking about meetings in general.  Have you ever thought about the time spent in meetings?  I have encountered many clients whose management teams spend 50 - 80% of their time sitting in meetings.  Much of this time is non-productive.   Through observation, I have discovered many problems with meetings.  Here are 5 very common ones:

  1.  Meetings not starting on time.
  2. Spending the first 15 - 20 minutes off-topic because one or two attendees have an important issue to discuss.
  3. Inviting unneeded people to a meeting just in case they might be needed. 
  4. Lack of agenda / Not enough time spent on important topics due to poor time management.
  5. Problem solving in a status meeting.

  One of the major benefits of lean is better productivity.  Usually, we think of manufacturing or transactional processes benefiting from lean thinking; however, it is critically important that supporting departments, management, and everyone else become more productive.  If meetings are consuming 80% of their time, then this represents the best opportunity to free up capacity.  Here are 5 ideas to consider for reducing the amount of time spent in meetings:

  1. Create and publish an agenda to help guide the meeting.  Include time estimates and limitations.  This is a powerful tool for managing time; you can refer to the agenda to bring the meeting back on track.
  2. Based on the agenda, decide who really needs to attend.  Respect people's time and realize that one hour of a manager's time in a meeting costs significant dollars.
  3. Stand up during status meetings and ensure that the meeting is dedicated only to status- not problem solving.  This will shorten these meetings dramatically.
  4. Have an agreed upon problem solving process such as the Toyota Business Practices/A3 or DMAIC that will be used consistently throughout the organization for problem solving meetings.
  5. Utilize a device to ensure that everyone is on time.  This may be difficult, but a couple of effective methods I have seen include: having anyone who is late sing a song to the entire group and having a latecomer drop $1 (or more) into a jar.

An excellent goal for 2019 will be to reduce meeting time by 20% and to improve effectiveness of meetings that need to be held.  Utilzing lean thinking in meeting planning and facilitation can free up capacity for more productive activities.


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