On the Job

Knowing Your Time Goal

I was asked last week for a fun time-keeping tool to use in a meeting. Obviously the words time-keeping and fun aren’t usually used together, but I get what they were after and I can work with that. The real issue was that we didn’t know the concern we were trying to address, so the request prompted a deeper dive. It’s typical for a number of issues to get swept up into the “we need to keep better track of time during our meetings,” so it’s important to know what you’re trying to fix or avoid.

  1. One or two people monopolize the conversation. For these folks, I find the best solution usually isn’t a tool, but a one-on-one conversation outside the meeting to get these people on your side as your ally. “I could really use your help with our group. You’re so passionate about topic x, that when you share your ideas first, people tend to just go along with them because it’s easiest. In our next meeting, I would love if you could help me out by waiting until a few other group members have shared before you weigh in.”
  2. You’re trying to establish a new norm for conversation within the group. Ideally, this is something the group can set at the beginning, but if you’re trying to make a shift in conversational norms, a reverse brainstorming exercise can work wonders. Rather than brainstorming solutions for a problem, you brainstorm how to get the worst-case scenario. For instance, with conversational norms, you might want to brainstorm how to ensure nothing gets done and everyone leaves feeling miserable. Your brainstorm may then include things like everyone is on their phones, no one comes prepared and you have to review everything that happened last time, everyone interrupts each other and so on. Once you realize these are certain ways to ensure inefficiency and bad feelings, you can work together to avoid them.
  3. You’ve got an emotionally charged, high stakes conversation coming up and you want to make sure everyone gets to speak. If this is the case, I like to recruit one or two people to volunteer to go first, and then I like to use opening arguments (or opening statements, if you’re in political debate season). Everyone gets three minutes (or whatever time works for your group and agenda) to share their options and perspective. It’s not time for conversation or debating, but it ensures everyone starts with a chance to talk and you start by getting everything out on the table.
  4. Everyone participates equally and the conversation is good, but you’re always running out of time or running over the allotted time. This is where agenda setting is your friend. A timed agenda with clear chunks of time for each discussion topic can help you as the planner and as a participant. We often try to pack too much into our agendas, so thinking through how much time each conversation needs will help prioritize what needs to be discussed now and what can wait for next time.

Now, these are issues that typically come up within established teams who are working together. For new teams, I find it most helpful to establish the ground rules and norms at the beginning so that everyone is on the same page. One of the groups I worked with established a “no beating a dead horse” ground rule at the beginning and would frequently come back to that within their conversations. They would say to each other, “We hear you and that horse is dead.” It may sound harsh to someone coming in from outside, but because the group established it themselves at the onset, it was an effective way for them to let each other know they’d been heard and keep the conversation moving in a timely way.

What are some of your tips and tricks for managing time and keeping things moving?

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