Strengthening Our Nonprofit Community

How Much Can You Do in an Hour? by Mary Moss

February 27th, 2019

It turns out, a lot!

Have you ever been in a meeting and caught yourself yawning without opening your mouth where your nostrils expand, and you pray no one is watching? This is a dead give-away that the meeting has gone on too long.

I am a keen observer of how different leaders run meetings. Some people process aloud, some don’t say a word, and some insist that everyone say something.  Some prefer to set a time limit; others intentionally do not. Some prepare ahead of time and follow an agenda; others cannot be constrained to an agenda.

I have become a huge proponent of the one-hour meeting. Strong meeting management values other people’s time. For example, my Rotary runs a tight ship – meetings are one hour, although people can come earlier to eat and socialize. We begin and end on time every week. In addition, two leading surgeons who have chaired campaigns told me from the get-go that we had to have one-hour meetings due to their schedules. The former mayor of a leading Triangle city runs his meetings sharply for one hour. I have not perfected it, but I am practicing what I preach.

Five tips for the one-hour meeting:

  1. A one-hour meeting must be led by someone who is not afraid to take charge of the agenda.
  2. Prepare the agenda in advance with timed agenda topics and times written on the agenda. Have a discussion in advance with key participants about desired outcomes so that meaningful discussion can be aimed squarely at the agenda topic.
  3. Plan only what you can accomplish. Think carefully about what has to happen and what can be accomplished outside of the meeting in email or with a phone call.
  4. Begin the meeting exactly on time, even if everyone has not arrived yet. You have to train the group on your expectations, which include reading all materials sent in advance of the meeting.
  5. End the meeting on time, even if items have to be deferred.

Lessons learned from my experience:

  • By practicing the discipline of a one-hour meeting, you yourself will become a better leader, more sensitive to everyone’s time, as you hone your skills on time and meeting management.
  • Everyone leaves the meeting informed, invigorated, and ready to take on next steps. You will see fewer (hidden) yawns and time-checks. People will look forward to the next meeting because they were not exhausted from this one.
  • You and others have more time in the day to do your work.

Give this a try. I think you will like what you see. One of my favorite compliments is “You ran a good meeting,” and that never happens when the meeting is too long.