The 22 minute meeting (updated)

(Updated: Now with Nicole Steinbok ignite video at bottom)

No one likes meetings and for good reason. In most meetings, most of the time, most people think most of what goes on is a waste of time. So what if you took out all of the stupid, wasteful stuff and left only the useful parts?

Enter the 22 minute meeting. This is an idea from Nicole Steinbok, and she presented it at Seattle Ignite 9. When I saw her speak at Microsoft a few months ago, she gave one of the best short talks I’ve ever seen and I told her to do it at Ignite. Glad I did.

Here’s the poster from her talk (which you can use):

I couldn’t find a write up of the core points, so here’s my take on her ideas from what I remember from her talk. All credit should go her way:

  1. Schedule a 22 minute meeting – Who decided meetings should be 30 or 60 minutes? What data is this based on? None. 30 and 60 minute meetings leave no time to get between meetings, and assumes, on average, people need an hour to sort things out. Certainly not all meetings can be run in 22 minutes, but many can, so we’d all be better off if the default time were small, not large.
  2. Have a goal based agenda – Having an agenda at all would be a plus in most meetings. Writing it on the whiteboard, earns double pluses, since then everyone has a constant reminder of what the meeting is supposed to achieve.
  3. Send required readings 3 days beforehand – The burden is on the organizer to make this small enough that people actually do it. Never ever allow a meeting to be “lets all read the documents together and penalize anyone diligent enough to do their homework”. (note: I think 24 hours is plenty). Remember some great companies, like Amazon, make reading central to how decisions are made.
  4. Start on time – How often does this happen? Almost never. Part of the problem is Outlook and all schedule programs don’t have space between meetings. By 2pm there is a day’s worth of meeting time debt. 22 minutes ensures plenty of travel/buffer time between meetings.
  5. Stand up – Reminds everyone the goal isn’t to elaborate or be supplemental (See Scrum standing meetings). Make your point, make your requests, or keep quiet. If there is a disagreement, say so, but handle resolving it outside of the meeting.
  6. No laptops, but presenters and note takers. If you’re promised 22 minutes, and it’s all good stuff, you don’t need a secondary thing to be doing while you pretend to be listening. One person taking notes, and one person presenting if necessary.
  7. No phones, no exceptions – see above.
  8. Focus! Note off topic comments. If you have an agenda, someone has to police it and this burden is on whoever called the meeting. Tangents are ok, provided they are short. The meeting organizer has to table tangents and arguments that go too far from the agenda.
  9. Send notes ASAP – With 22 minutes, there should be time, post meeting, for the organizer to send out notes and action items before the next meeting begins.

What do you think?

If you like the idea, help it spread. Nicole started a facebook group and a poster you can download (PDF). Pass it on.

UPDATED: Here’s Nicole’s excellent Ignite talk.

118 Responses to “The 22 minute meeting (updated)”

  1. Petr

    This is an ideal situation everyone agrees with only when they are looking at it as someone’s else proposal. But in reality, unfortunately, many employers still believe they HAVE to keep their employees in the office from 8-9-10am to 5-6-7pm, hence you get 30-60-120 minutes schedulled for wasteful stuff. I’m not talking about extreme cases of Asia where they often fill their time with meetings simply becasue they will have to stay in the office until 10pm anyway.

    Reply
  2. Trevor

    “Who decided meetings should be 30 or 60 minutes? What data is this based on? None.”

    I suppose one could say the same thing about 22 minutes.

    Reply
  3. Oscar

    This is very interesting. I think it would be met with resistance at first. I find people usually want their laptops, and or their phones and iPhones, how do you enforce #7? That’s tough.

    Reply
  4. Jim

    I like it. Will send it to collegues ASAP.

    Reply
  5. Scott Berkun

    Oscar: I honestly think if the meeting is filled with just the useful parts, people will tend to do less laptop/phone crap anyway. Not sure how hard you have to enforce.

    If I were the person calling the meeting I’d pitch it this way:

    “Hey, meetings suck. But we need some of them to get stuff done. I want to try an experiment to make them go much faster. They’ll be 22 minutes long by default. But I need everyone to commit to staying off laptops and phones. Can everyone do that?”

    Reply
  6. Scott Berkun

    Petr: I understand your point, but sometimes you can’t save the stupid people from being stupid. There’s no saving throw for that.

    People should be rewarded for being effective – for finding ways to do a good job in X instead of 2X – not for marking time.

    Anyplace where people are *rewarded* for taking up more time, and slowing things down is more messed up than any idea for running meetings could solve.

    Reply
  7. Scott Berkun

    Trevor: True, but if we’re guessing I’d rather guess on the short side than the long. My point was 60, or even 30 minutes, is way too long for many meeting agendas.

    I suppose *you* could make an argument the default meeting length should be 250 minutes long, but somehow I doubt you think the average meeting should be longer than it is :)

    Reply
  8. Nicole Steinbok

    @Scott – Great write up, thank you. You couldn’t find a write up by me since I haven’t done one… it is on my list.

    @Trevor – totally agree nothing is magical about 22 minutes, the root idea is to challenge the default and not just accept what softwaresocial norms lead you towards you.

    @Oscar – put up the poster, and at the start of the meeting say something like “This meeting I would like to try something different so we can hopefully end early, no laptops or cell phone use unless it is related to the meeting. Is everyone cool with that?” If they say no ask why. Have a discussion about it.

    Reply
  9. Mary

    I’ve heard that a half-hour television program is usually 22 minutes long with eight minutes of commercials.

    Reply
  10. Mark Connolly

    I agree on all your points really, but particularly on how the shorter meting length supports starting meetings on time, and on the role of electronic devices in meetings.

    Reply
  11. Sean Crawford

    I hate to be the odd man out, but at my agency I think our meetings are quite functional. I have printed out two copies and when I am next on-site, Tuesday, I will go around to some offices and see what people think about our meetings.

    Reply
  12. Shelagh Tiesu

    wish I could inforce these concepts at my work but since I am lowest on totem pole I don’t seem to have much power enforcing the rules for the meetings. any suggestions to get the boss people to follow the concepts??

    Reply
  13. Denny McCorkle

    Scott, I love the idea of a 22 minute meeting where everyone stands and comes prepared. As a professor, I wish all academic meetings and committees could follow these guidelines. I shall pass this on as a suggestion. Thanks. @TweetRightBrain

    Reply
  14. Dick

    Scott — great thoughts. I don’t think the point is that this recipe is one-size-fits all, some meetings won’t fit this but many could and should. Especially the *&!@ staff meetings. In my long-ago Air Force days stand-up staff meetings were the norm and it does wonders for the time limits. And isn’t the point of 22 min just to use what’s needed and not some block of time chosen in half-hour chunks?

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  15. Dick

    @Shelagh Tiesu
    Interested to hear Scott’s comments but, for me, don’t wait for the boss. Nearly everyone ends up being responsible for a meeting–create the opportunity, then set it up and run it as much like this as works for your purpose. You may get some resistance up front but I’ll bet you’ll be surprised how little. And personally, I’ve never heard someone complain about a meeting that was too short, too efficient or too well run! :-) Go for it, even if you can’t pull it off you just might make people start seeing you as a think-out-of-the-box kinda person.

    Reply
  16. Jason Crawford

    Love this idea–thanks, Scott.

    One alternative to sending out material early: Deliberately *don’t* send it out early; expect and plan that people will read the material in the meeting.

    Cons:
    * meeting is longer
    * silence while people read is awkward at first (you get used to it)

    Pros:
    * more natural/realistic IMO: acknowledges the reality that it’s hard to get people to do their homework
    * everyone has the material fresh in their minds

    This was the norm in meetings I attended at Amazon, and it worked pretty well.

    Reply
    1. Scott Berkun

      Jason: every culture is different and I think there are many different ways to go about the spirit of what Nicole proposes.

      The core of the spirit, to me, is that most meetings are poorly run and poorly organized and that’s why they’re so boring and wasteful, not anything intrinsic to meetings as a concept.

      As a cultural counterpoint, at Microsoft I had a rule about spec review meetings. I insisted anyone who attended had to read the spec before coming (and I’d provide it at least 24 hours before) . The principle was if you didn’t care enough about the feature to spend 25 minutes reading the spec, then you did not deserve to have input into those decisions. As a rule, we would not read through the spec in the meeting itself: only address challenges, questions, concerns, etc. in response to the spec.

      Of course spec reviews are a special kind of meeting, but I do like the spirit of their being some ante to make in the meeting room, especially if the goal of the meeting is to make decisions, and the fewer the headcount the better.

      Reply
  17. Mike Nitabach

    Dude, this post cracked me up! In academia, a 60 minute meeting is SHORT!!

    Reply
  18. Sebastian Brand

    Regarding issue #4 (start on time) I’ve got some shameless self-advertising to do ;) I wrote an Outlook add-in to block the time before and after an appointment in the calendar, it’s meant to schedule travel times, but one can use it to just block the time. This helps a lot to keep others from scheduling a meeting right before or after another meeting.

    Reply
  19. Ivan Frantar

    Interesting points, Scott!

    What I would say is that at the company I work for, meetings happen almost endemically i.e., someone farts: ‘Let’s have a meeting with the team about that’; someone thought out loud whatever: ‘Let’s have a meeting…’. You get the idea.

    My point being, is that there always seem to be the need to have quick 5-10 minutes meetings all the time. Of course, the reason being is that we are working on a project that is demanding a very tight deadline and involving several teams

    Reply
  20. Joelle Godfrey

    I love the idea of a 22 minute meeting, but wonder how likely it is that every problem or issue will fit into this format? This seems more like a format for a status meeting or a meeting where you need to make a decision after everyone’s views have already been heard. What seems more likely is that one 22 minute meeting will be following by another…until you get everyone heard and the issues addressed.

    I’m not arguing for long meetings, but the idea that a complex issue will be addressed in a 22 minute meeting sounds like you’ll be meeting again after the rushed agreement you reached in the 22 min meeting falls apart.

    Reply
  21. nuthnfiner

    I once led a meeting at our headquarters office with the entire upper management team. They had insisted on the meeting to review and internal project. Head of HR, SVPs, COO, CEO, etc. At one point, I looked down the table, and every single person in that room except me had their crack berry out looking down at it. Sure made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

    I got a meeting with the HR Director afterwards (also a guilty party), and called him and the rest of them out. Explained I could have saved the company the time and my travel expenses by just emailing a memo to their crackberries, and pointed out that it was becoming a habit, which meant that at some point, we’d be doing while in client meetings.

    Didn’t make much difference, and I just try to avoid having to fly to HQ to make these kinds of presentations anymore.

    Reply
  22. Eric Davis

    This is a great and timely post. As a project director, I lead a lot of meetings and am always looking for ways to make my meeting more productive while also keeping them short and sweet. I

    Reply
  23. Jason

    It’s good, but nothing new. This is how meetings out to be run in every company and how they are taught to be run in business schools.

    Reply
  24. John

    I think this has helped us out a ton since we started it. Week 2, we will see if it continues! Thanks for the great tips!

    Reply
  25. Kat

    … and no food or drink allowed either. No one will die of thirst or starve in 22 minutes. Most people are either distracted by food or can’t hear what’s going on because they’re chewing ;0)

    Reply
  26. Tim Clarkeq

    Ha,

    Someone calls a meeting and attempts to railroad me into actions that do not fit with the company strategy, and then try to railroad those actions and table (US version of the word not uk) anything that does not fit, well they are welcome to a whole work of business hurt.

    How about spending some time focusing on what they are trying to acheive, why they are trying to achive it and not driving to some potentially idiotic solution

    Reply
  27. Sean Crawford

    I was the March 5, 6:30 poster. Today I asked six or seven executives if our agency meetings “were functional,” (Yes.) and if people hated them. (No, mostly no.) Results: You get more efficient with practice and it is common sense. Naturally you need a goal. They felt that people could slip up a bit and meetings could sometimes go long but overall there was no dislike of meetings. One person looked forward to concrete meetings and whispered that he dreaded more abstract ones with “operations reports.”

    One person made me laugh and swing my heels: This “Joe” hated meetings and said people would testify that he avoided them when he could – they did – and that he hated them because he was overworked and people would get off topic. I laughed because he was named as “the” person who got off topic! I reported back to him that he needed to work on this. That’s when we laughed.

    Reply
  28. Brijesh

    It sounds like the thing to do but this is pure fiction.
    I would, however, like to see this one day!

    Reply
  29. Dave Richardson

    A 22 minute meeting is an admirable goal. The main point to have a fixed time-limit that’s appropriate to the task, stops the meeting dragging on and focus attention.
    No mobiles? We would have to frisk people as they enter the meeting room.
    Standing up

    Reply
  30. doli sanusi

    Not work for all meeting.
    Detail technical meeting will not work on this.

    Reply
  31. Terry

    Not to promote books but Patrick Lencioni – Death By Meeting brings a different perspective to meetings.

    Reply
  32. Chris

    This is great Scott. I’ve been a subscriber to the 37 signals philosophy for a while and your succinct nine-bullet suggestion is spot on. I’ll give it a whirl for sure. Thanks for posting.

    Reply
  33. bubba

    Good article, but you misspelled “presenters” in number 6.

    Reply
  34. Kevin Webber

    Regardless of how productive someone is, the absolute minimum requirement for keeping a full time job in North America is the ability to look productive for at least 8 hours a day. The people who can’t fill that time up with actual real work are the ones who schedule the soul-crushing 2 hour meetings of fluff. I’m freelance now, so if I really, really need to set up a meeting with people I always have a clear agenda going in and a clear way to measure if the meeting provided true value. To me, that’s more important than worrying about the length of the meeting. I keep track of it like any other expense and ask myself “was that meeting really worth $150?” Imagine the epic waste of time meeting at a corporation, say 8 people at $50 an hour per person. A 2 hour fluff meeting would run $800 in salary alone. If Outlook had a feature that automatically calculated the *cost* of each meeting based on time/salary and made those figures easy to access, a lot of meetings would be impossible to justify. And the meeting organizer having to click a little checkbox afterwards that makes it clear, “This meeting was a good way to spend $800 of project funds.” I can only imagine. :)

    Reply
  35. Jason Baker

    “No one likes meetings”

    …I wish this were true, but unfortunately some people *love* wasting several hours of other peoples’ time.

    Reply
  36. Leon

    Although i find 22 a bit of a random number (why not make it 23 for example), I really like this idea. There are too many meetings which last hours and aren’t productive at all. All meeting members have to really prepare for the meeting, that’s a condition I presume?

    Reply
  37. Jim Dowson

    One addition, one dispute.

    Meetings that start a xx:15 or xx:45 are much more likely to start on time. There is research backing this, but I don’t have a pointer to it. Try it – it works.

    The dispute: (6) is impractical, and based on the hypothesis that the laptop is a distraction. Some of us use laptops to collect information & take notes – allowing only one person to take notes gives ‘the power of the pen’ to one scribe.

    Do you also forbid paper & pen? No.
    Could someone be doing something with pen & paper that is not in support of the meeting’s objectives? Yes.

    While phones are most likely NOT in support of the meeting objectives, forbidding laptops is unnecessary to achieve the goal.

    Reply
  38. Bharath Narayan M G

    Useful. I will pass it to my colleagues. I hate long meetings.

    Reply
  39. bubba

    :) still misspelled on the #6 image. In fact there are 2 words misspelled.

    Reply
  40. Baloot

    As a freelance web designer, I never use this under 30-minute meeting with my new client. After this, I think I can use this tips.

    Very helpful information. :)

    Reply
  41. Stéphane

    I believe that a debriefing can be done in 22 minutes. I have doubt about a 22 minutes meeting where attendees interact to converge to a decision. I would very like to see an agenda of a 22 minutes meeting.

    Reply
  42. Bjorn

    Sorry for being picky, but it’s “presenters” and “note takers”.

    Reply
  43. TweetDeckTV

    Very interesting. But will it work with a room full of creatives? Bring on the geek ball-gags and whips!

    Reply
  44. David Pinn

    Sometimes, good practice needs to be packaged well, and Ms Steinbok certainly has achieved that. I hope it catches on.

    Reply
  45. Mike

    I’ve never seen so many well-intentioned meetings ruined by folks text-messaging. Incredible.

    Reply
  46. Baloot

    I usally meeting client at cafe bar. How I can to stand up when meeting at the table. LOL.

    Reply

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