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Leadership & Strategy


Productive meetings – Ditch mobiles and risk being kicked out

How about working out exactly how much each meeting costs in staff time?

They’re critical for communication and collaboration, but what is the secret to productive meetings? Be the Business showcases eight innovative and original approaches to driving efficiencies.

Set a meeting cost timer

Antony Marcano, co-founder of RiverGlide, said: “We sometimes use a meeting-cost timer app to encourage productive meetings. Instead of showing how long the meeting has run, it shows how much the meeting is costing.

“These apps multiply the number of attendees by the average cost per attendee (including facilities cost).

“It starts out as a bit of fun and a curiosity, but people are often astonished at how rapidly the counter increases. A meeting with 10 people can easily cost between £15 – £30 per minute; that’s £1,000 – £2,000 per hour.”

Andy Palmer of RiverGlide added: “It can be a visceral shock to the meeting organiser to discover they’ve spent £2,000 worth of people’s time and attention. More so if it were to discuss the cost/benefit of a £500 trip to Denmark. People begin to weigh the cost of just doing something versus the cost of discussing it in a meeting.”

RiverGlide is a London-based company with that guides organisations in all aspects of agility.

Run the risk of being kicked out

Gary Cattermole, director at The Survey Initiative, said: “We’ve all sat through long boring meetings, which is a major blocker to boosting productivity. Why not shake up your meetings by placing a time limit on the meeting, and then reduce it by ten minutes? Time adds a sense of urgency, which concentrates people’s minds and there’s an understanding between team members that we just ‘need to get things done’.

“Running the risk of being kicked out of the boardroom also stops some of those annoying workplace habits, such as team members ignoring a request to give a snappy overview of the week ahead by describing their next seven days in minutiae detail – this technique is great at culling the ‘I’m busier than you, but really I don’t have much on my plate’ culture.

“For those who like to talk, this switch can be tricky. But, with all changes, good management will ensure every employee is briefed on the change and the reasons behind the shift.”

The Survey Initiative is an Essex-based business, employing 15 members of staff, that creates employee surveys.

Have meetings in the toilet

James Street, co-founder of Whalar, said: “We’re operating in a fast-paced industry with creativity at its core, but our campaigns are also about delivering strong results for our clients. For me the two go hand in hand – when you look at things creatively, you’ll be more productive.

“Whalar is now two years-old and we have offices in London, New York and LA. However, things haven’t always been so glamorous. In our first office, meeting space was sparse and we had to think creatively. When our only meeting room was in use, the team had to take calls and have brainstorms in the toilet. They were pretty open to it – we still joke about recreating that space when we have our own custom designed offices.

“By having meetings somewhere unusual, straight away you’re out of your comfort zone. It makes you more open to looking at ideas in a different way. If you’re struggling with creativity, I’d definitely suggest taking your meetings out of the meeting room. Why not? A little creativity goes a long way.”

Whalar is an influencer marketing platform based in London with 41 employees.

Surrender your mobiles

Ed Molyneux, founder and CEO of FreeAgent, said: “Mobiles and tablets may be important to use in your business on a daily basis, but they can also be an unwelcome distraction when it comes to meetings. After all, the temptation to answer emails, respond to customers on social media or do some online research can be far greater than actually paying attention to who’s talking.

“So, if you often find that phones get as much attention as speakers during a meeting, you may find it more effective to ban mobiles altogether. Removing distractions can help you focus conversations and create productive meetings, which should help reduce the overall time you spend in them.”

FreeAgent is an Edinburgh-based business of 150 employees that provides cloud-based accounting software.

Go for the sticky note approach

Julia Munder, international marketing manager at Maxwell – Scott, said: “We start all meetings with a group ‘brain dump’. Each person is handed five sticky notes which they are to fill with five thoughts or ideas they have had that past week.

“They can be big or small and don’t even have to make that much sense – sometimes the most bizarre ideas conjure up the basis for a campaign. The sticky notes are then placed on a wall in front of the entire group and discussed. This is a simple but incredibly effective way of ensuring that ideas are thrown around and creativity remains at the forefront of our internal meetings.

“This technique has most definitely increased the amount of productive meetings as we never run out of ideas to discuss so there’s never any pondering over what to talk about next. Staff really enjoy the freedom of knowing that their sticky note ideas are kept anonymous, as it gives them more confidence to express their true thoughts – even the quirkier ones.”

Maxwell – Scott is a luxury leather brand based in York with over 25 members of staff.

Cut out quick coffees and lunch meetings

Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of Time Etc, said: “Certain meetings are, without doubt, one of the most effective ways to waste time and reduce productivity, so ground rules must be set.

“I no longer do lunch meetings because, however enjoyable it is to wile away a few hours in a nice restaurant, there just aren’t enough hours in my day. Similarly, I won’t do ‘quick coffees’ with people I don’t know, because it’s a misnomer. If I’m interested we can meet remotely or do a quick call, and get straight to the point.

“I only attend meetings that directly progress or positively impact the business, such as sitting down with clients to collect valuable feedback, having one-on-one catch ups with my team to look at progress and sessions to discuss complex accountancy or legal issues.”

Virtual assistant platform Time Etc is headquartered in Birmingham and has 21 staff (with hundreds of freelance VAs based all over the world).

Get negatives out of the way first

Paola Toska, brand manager at Cocofina, said:”As an organisation grows so does the complexities of communication. Meetings are a useful tool but need to be used with caution.

“At Cocofina we have regular meetings for new product launches where everyone from all departments are involved, since between us we speak ten languages and represent our target market.

“For this type of brainstorming, or a meeting involving creativity, we use a technique where we capture the concerns or blockers from the attendees at the start of the meeting. In this way we get the negativity out of the way, and also find ways to address concerns or halt the new product development and save money.

“We believe it’s important to encourage the entire team to contribute and engage to their full potential.”

Cocofina is a healthy foods brand with a team of ten operating out of London.

Encourage creative friction

David Levine, CEO of DigitalBridge, said: “We actively encourage ‘creative friction’ throughout the business. Everybody at the company is encouraged to never take things at face value, and to ask difficult questions of their colleagues to stimulate constructive debate around new viewpoints and ways of working.

“Good is the enemy of great – complacency kills – so never be afraid to challenge and push each other to embrace new, exciting ideas. This mantra has been critical to our growth – particularly considering the largely-untapped potential of the tech we work with every day.

“Everybody is different, and the key to a truly collaborative growth culture lies in embracing that – remember, the best ideas are often born from these differences.”

DigitalBridge are based in Manchester and have a team of 30 operating in the space planning space providing visualisation tools.

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