Few people like workplace meetings, from the summer intern right up to the boardroom elite.
Case in point: Billionaire Mark Cuban once told Inc. magazine, "The only way you're getting me for a meeting is if you're writing me a check."
Cuban's hardly alone. Tesla founder Elon Musk calls meetings a "blight," and an infamous Harris survey noted that 17 percent of employees would rather watch paint dry and 8 percent would rather undergo a root canal than attend a meeting.
Managers aren't wild about meetings, either, and they're the ones who have to run them. According to a recent survey from Otter.ai:
- 15 percent of organizational time is spent in meetings.
- Middle managers spend 35 percent of their time in meetings.
- Upper-level managers spend 50 percent of their time in meetings.
Enter a new corporate trend: the "15-minute meeting."
The 15-minute meeting was first introduced by Berlin-based financial automation firm Monite in July 2021 when the company put in place a quarter-hour limit for managers running team meetings.
Business experts say the 15-minute meeting curbs employee burnout and boosts engagement, especially now that so many companies are operating in hybrid or fully remote mode.
"Fifteen-minute meetings are prime sources of efficiency," said Dannie Lynn Fountain, a Google talent sourcer and founder of Focused on People, a human resources services firm in Seattle. "Data shows that 5 percent of employees agree that meetings prevent them from completing their own work, while 24 billion hours are wasted each year as the result of unproductive meetings."
For managers, learning how to plan for and run a shorter meeting is good business.
"The 15-minute meeting allows managers to focus on key points and avoid their message becoming lost in conversation," said Michelle D. Jimenez, director of human resources at Fromer Eye Centers in New York City. "It also allows team members to focus on those key points and not spend wasted time and dollars digging through non-essential information. This equates to higher productivity, higher return on investment and ultimately higher morale."
Getting Agile with Scrum
One model for running a shorter workplace meeting is Scrum, a project management framework that encourages short-term collaboration to tackle project goals (much like in a rugby scrum, where teammates gather shoulder-to-shoulder to move the rugby ball forward).
"The 15-minute meeting model is lifted directly from Scrum," said Angela Druckman, founder of The Druckman Company, an agile workplace training firm based in Seattle. "Scrum ... is used in many industries, usually in software development or information technology."
Druckman said she spends a fair amount of time in her training classes teaching people how to run an effective 15-minute meeting. Here are the tips she gives her clients:
1. Come into the meeting knowing what outcome you want. "Meetings are most effective when they are outcome-oriented," Druckman said. "A good Daily Scrum has the team members doing most of the talking and they are talking mostly to each other, not reporting to an authority figure, like a project manager."
2. Keep conversations meaningful but brief. "In the Daily Scrum, each team member says what they did yesterday, what they will be working on today and any [obstacles] they are experiencing," Druckman added. "Using these points as a framework for discussion keeps the meeting short but high-value."
3. Shut down tangential discussions. Druckman reminds her clients that the Daily Scrum may be a good place to identify issues, but not to solve them.
"When issues are identified that are important but not directly relevant to the goal of the Daily Scrum, the person leading the meeting should 'parking lot' that topic so people can discuss it elsewhere," she said. "This is the way to keep the meeting meaningful for everyone involved."
More Tips for Short Meetings
Management specialists have additional ideas on how to wind down to 15-minute meeting times.
Nettie Nitzberg is the chief learning and leadership officer at Saterman Connect, a New York City-based consulting firm that specializes in management coaching, learning and leadership. Nitzberg advises a two-step approach.
First, identify your meeting "must-know" items:
Step 1. Set your meeting priorities.
- Consider what you, as the manager, want to accomplish.
- Recognize the best and most efficient way to accomplish those goals.
- Prepare for the meeting so it can run efficiently.
Second, lay the groundwork for an effective meeting.
Step 2. Plan properly for a 15-minute meeting.
- Create SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) meeting objectives.
- Identify who must attend the meeting and invite only them. Others can get the notes later on.
- Prepare a specific agenda, and share it ahead of time.
- Share information (notes, materials, links for viewing, etc.) ahead of time so participants can prepare and so you don't waste time going over these materials in detail during the meeting.
- Select a person to be the timekeeper and another to be the notetaker during the meeting.
Shorter, but Sharper
The 15-minute meeting should produce what it implies—shorter, sharper collaborations that define project goals and leave more time for workplace teams to meet those goals.
"Done right, the 15-minute meeting is a critical way to ensure we're able to best use our workday to complete the tasks that actually move the needle, instead of spending all day in meetings and having to work after hours to catch up," Fountain said.
Brian O'Connell is a freelance writer based in Bucks County, Pa. A former Wall Street trader, he is the author of the books CNBC Creating Wealth (John Wiley & Sons, 2001) and The Career Survival Guide (McGraw-Hill, 2004).