4 tips to make meetings more meaningful

CIOs share their tried and true tips you can use to make meetings more efficient, minimize time-wasting activities, and preserve time in the day to get work done
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Between one-on-ones, coaching sessions, strategy meetings, town halls, and company-wide forums, IT leaders’ calendars can get filled up quickly, leaving little to no time to think before joining the next video meeting.

But meetings are important – for those working remotely, it can be the only time in their day they see and connect with their peers. In a hybrid work era, leaders must take steps to rethink meetings to keep the benefits, minimize time-wasting activities, and preserve time in the day to get work done.

We asked IT leaders who recently won a 2022 Seattle CIO of the Year ORBIE Award what they have learned over their careers about making meetings more meaningful and effective. Here are four tried and true tips you can use to reclaim some time in your calendar.

1. Cap meetings at 30 minutes

Zafar Chaudry

Zafar Chaudry, SVP, CDO & CIO, Seattle Children’s: The pandemic has driven us to reconsider how we work effectively; engaging staff is very different now due to hybrid working. My view on meetings has always been that they should be kept short, on point, and focus on quick fact-based decision-making.

For any person, it is hard to concentrate beyond 30 minutes at a time, so my goal is always to keep meetings to 30 minutes and report out by exception only. No one wants to attend a meeting just to hear a report out. They want to hear the highs and the lows and what actual decisions need to be made.

[ Also read 7 ways CIOs can prepare today for the future of work. ]

2. Practice intentionality

Margaret Hopkins

Margaret Hopkins, SVP & CIO, Puget Sound Energy: With so many meetings and so little “think time,” I’m often amazed that we accomplish anything in IT. All kidding aside, I’ve learned over the years that the key to dealing with the endless barrage of meetings is to be intentional with my time – especially in this new hybrid working model.

Virtual meetings are now the norm, and technology is central to our workday. With that comes multitasking and distractions – email, chat, emojis, document-sharing, and white-boarding, among other disruptions like the dog barking, doorbell ringing, and the kids asking for help – all things that can make it hard to focus during a time when we simply don’t have time to waste.

To combat multitasking and distraction, keep your meetings succinct and focused, and give your audience 100 percent of you: Close every window except your video meeting, use headphones to reduce background noise, and keep your video on (even if you just finished a workout).

Intentionality takes practice, but you’ll be amazed at the results when you’re not multitasking –maybe you’ll have more productive meetings, or maybe you’ll get even more done in this fast-paced IT world.

3. Focus on decision-making

Sasi Pillay

Sasi Pillay, VP of IT Services & CIO, Washington State University: Avoid meeting if it is only for information exchange. More collaborative tools, such as email and chat, do a far better job of keeping people informed. If it is to make a decision, I prefer to have a meeting with the people who are the appropriate stakeholders.

Have a clear agenda with a purpose for each item sent out prior to the meeting to help people to prepare. The purpose could be stated as a discussion, a decision, or both. Establish a time limit for each agenda item, and if the stated purpose cannot be achieved within the time allocated, put it in a parking lot for another meeting or even an email, if sufficient progress was made during the meeting.

4. Keep meetings important, relevant, and fun

Jason Wood

Jason Wood, CIO, EvergreenHealth: Get the subject matter right. Ensure that the team meetings have a purpose and that the content is important and relevant.

We do this in our monthly all-hands meetings by not only spending significant time selecting what content the leadership wants to share, but also in understanding what the broader team wants to hear about. We send anonymous surveys to every teammate, ensuring that each question and suggestion is addressed in the meeting. This serves the purpose of aligning our content to what teammates want to hear about and it also offers those shy teammates a voice in the meetings.

Furthermore, we are adamant about creating space for dialog and relationship building. Simple information dissemination can be solved with an email – we strive for our meetings to be something greater.

The shift to hybrid has renewed my belief that meetings are an opportunity to build relationships and strengthen the culture. We used to build relationships by walking to Starbucks or running across the street for lunch. For most of my teammates, being in the office five days a week is a relic of the past. For those remote teammates, virtual meetings are the only interaction points with the broader team. Hence, we make a strong effort to create space in meetings for fun interactions and collaborations.

[ Check out essential career advice from 37 award-winning CIOs! Get a variety of insights on leadership, strategy, and career development from IT executives at Mayo Clinic, Dow, Aflac, Liberty Mutual, Nordstrom, and more: Ebook: 37 award-winning CIOs share essential IT career advice. ]

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.  

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