Sixty minute meetings are inefficient and hinder creative thought.

Some companies are worse than others but in most, meetings always start too late and often in a silent mood of frustration rather than anticipation. 

If you take the average meeting there is usually one, or possibly two, people on time while the majority of participants roll in somewhere between five and ten minutes after the meeting was scheduled to begin. This sloppy time keeping stimulates a culture of nonchalance and makes the early arrivers anxious and frustrated and not at all open to listen to contributions from the late comers.

Some meeting managers decide to start meetings without waiting for the late comers.  This generally leads to one or two results: a repeat of what had been discussed or the latecomers miss something importantant early on and thus never fully engage until a new topic is raised.

The solution however is extremely simple.  Ask the system administrators to set the default meeting length to 50 minutes and arrange for automatic reminders for all PC calendars, mobile phones and pda’s for five minutes before the meeting and  again at at the end of the meeting.  This way, the alarms will effectively go off during the meeting reminding everyone to wrap up and either move on to their next meeting or take time out to reflect on the meeting just ended.

The extra 5-10 minutes will give everyone valuable time to either send urgent e-mails, or even better, to think over a key point raised before the next meeting begins. 

One hour back to back meetings kill creativity, de-motivate even the strongest self starters and force staggered starts because they make it impossible to begin the second meeting on time, even if the previous one ended to schedule.

Creativity is not usually found during departmental meetings.  Real vision and insight occurs in moments of quiet reflection, following discussion or deep thought.  In our MS Outlook and Lotus Notes driven worlds, we do not book enough reflection time. 

By enforcing a ten minute break between meetings, there is no excuse for people arriving late, therefore the necessary discipline can be applied, allowing all meetings to start on time and with a greater feeling of optimism and positive energy. 

The apparent shortened running time of ten minutes will keep everyone focused and if the meeting has a well defined meeting objective (only one per meeting) and a balanced agenda – much more productivity will be gained in the long run.

In this 50 minute meeting world, the 30 minute meeting will also need to be reduced to 20 or possibly 25 minutes, depending how far apart the average meeting rooms are.

At the age of eleven I was sent off to a monastery boarding school where bells rang at the end of each class with a five minute break before start of the next one.  A second bell sounded at the beginning of each class and for many masters, if a pupil was not in his classroom before the second bell rang, then the pupil had to remain outside for the entire lesson (catching up either in detention after school or by borrowing notes from a fellow pupil, depending upon the severity of the master). 

Bells were rung at the end and at the beginning not only of classes but also of every event; morning prayers, breakfast, lunch, letter writing, free time, bed time, whenever a time was allocated to a particular activity. 

Being ruled by bells was not so pleasant but it gave an absolutely necessary structure to the school and ensured efficiency and focus.  However, the crucial advantage of breaks between classes was the five or ten minute time zones in which pupils would discuss points raised by the teacher, while on their way to the next class, or possibly stay behind to ask for some clarity on a particular point in the lesson.  Teachers too were forced to adhere to the structure that the bells gave.

Not much is different in a business.  Our electronic calendars dictate our movements.  Of course not everyone is in meetings all day long and some meetings are necessarily longer than an hour but these too should finish, ten minutes before the hour or half past the hour. 

I encourage everyone to try it, not just in one department, but to begin a campaign to introduce it globally.  The 50 minute rule needs to become a part of the company culture and not just the mad whim of one eccentric manager. 

Let me know how you get on.  Begin with a detailed change management plan and an instruction to the IT department with emails to both the HR and communications department heads. 

Have a good week,