What strategies are you using to minimize meeting sprawl?

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Senior Executive Advisor in Software, 10,001+ employees
We have shorter meetings that are 25 minutes instead of 30 and I am a stickler on that rule. I’ll log off after 25 minutes and I do it to maintain my sanity. People need to have executive empathy because we are constantly in firefighting mode and switching from one context to the other. We need time to decompress and then switch to the next context, so I really focus on that. And if a call goes longer than 25 minutes, I'll just say, “I have to go,” and I hang up. A lot of people probably have choice words for me, but I need to set an example.
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Head of IT in Finance (non-banking), 11 - 50 employees

I like your approach because "time boxing" and even reducing meeting time makes each minute more prechious and attendees more aware of the limited time they have. This can help people to focus more and faster on the essentials - instead of irrelevant details.

CIO in Education, 1,001 - 5,000 employees
If I have more than one person on the call at the start time, then I just start. That’s what I started doing specifically for meetings that I’m leading. I record the session and the people who drop in late because their previous meeting ran over can review whatever they missed afterward.

My other rule is that if I get invited to a meeting for which there's no agenda, I reject the invite. I’ll also reject the invite if there's an agenda, but there's no deliverable for me. They have names for each of the line items on the agenda, so am I not needed? If they just want me there for decision making but I don't see it listed on the agenda, I reject the invite. After I started doing that, the team also adopted those rules over a period of time and it spread to the other teams as well. It’s worked out well. Now everyone has an agenda, meetings are being recorded, and folks start on time.
3 Replies
Senior Executive Advisor in Software, 10,001+ employees

It's the difference between someone being in the “to” field and someone being in the “CC” field of a message. “To” definitely means that there is some action or assignment — you're expecting something from the person. “CC” means you're just trying to inform them, so it is optional.

I also used to empower all my teams to reject a meeting invite if there's no agenda. It causes a lot of consternation initially, but people get the memo. They realize that if you have to pick and choose between three meetings that you're booked for at the same time, you have to pick the one where you think you can either deliver or gain some value. 

CIO in Education, 1,001 - 5,000 employees

One of the things that we experimented with was no meeting Wednesdays, but that did not last long. There are still vendors to respond to, or the auditors want to have a meeting, or there’s a customer presentation. And if I'm getting involved in a presales call with a prospective customer, I can't say no that.

VP of IT in Healthcare and Biotech, 1,001 - 5,000 employees

We have No meetings Friday and I am very strict on it. Unless the sky is falling I would not do meetings on Friday and now the team understands and follows it. 
This is a good way to wrap up the week.

Program Director of Information Security in Hardware, 10,001+ employees
We follow two strategies to minimize meeting sprawl. We run meetings as scrum with a time box approach to go through issues, impediments and action plan. This  scrum approach ensures we stay within allocated time. For non-scrum or open discussion meetings, we follow agenda based approach with time allocated to each participant. We remind the participant if they divert from the topic or meeting sprawl begins to happen to setup dedicated time for a further discussion.
Solutions Architect in Software, 51 - 200 employees
All meetings are timeboxed-and if possible no back-to-back sessions. We also insist on an agenda and try stick to it. In cases where there is drift from the agenda, topics get out in the “parking lot” are are dealt with in a separate session. 
Director of software engineering in Software, 201 - 500 employees
- Set a culture of results and directness. The culture makes it clear that rambling and talking for the sake of talking are not encouraged. 

- Allow people to speak their minds, even (especially) if it's disagreement. This might be contradictory in the short term, but is valuable in the long term. 
- Schedule meetings with a goal, state the goal at the beginning of the meeting. If the topics have been covered, conclude the meeting. 
- Shelf anything that is not relevant to the topic of discussion. 
- Any tasks that come out of the meeting - assign them to the right people and let them take responsibility. 
Chief Information Officer in Services (non-Government), 201 - 500 employees
Absolutely have to have and stick to an agenda which is distributed beforehand. If there’s no measurable point to the meeting, it doesn’t happen. 
Senior Director, HR Administration and Technology in Education, 10,001+ employees
Outlook has an option that will automatically shorten a meeting by 5 minutes. All my meetings are set to this to give a moment to center yourself before the next meeting. 

There is also a “focus time” setting to help with defensive calendaring. 
Head of IT and Security in Finance (non-banking), 51 - 200 employees
None. I'm struggling with that especially that our culture is very talkative and never goes straight to the point. This results in overlapping meeting.
VP of IT in Healthcare and Biotech, 5,001 - 10,000 employees
I prioritze short and small participant collaboration opportunities.  These can be as little as 10-15 minutes and may equal more individual meetings but their concise agenda minimizes less productive and some over-generlized meetings.  This approach ensures well thought-out discussions, clear focus of the participants and consistent drive to the meeting's objectives/outcomes.
CIO/CISO in Software, 10,001+ employees
If meetings to discuss ANY question and responsibility sharing is part of company culture - you can hardly do anything alone to fix it.

If the need for my participation in the meeting is not clear, I usually double-check with the initiator why I was invited, and then either delegate it to one of the subordinates, or ignore it. It allows at least to use my own time more efficiently. 

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