Planning

How to use the FLEX meeting method to reduce the time you spend on meetings by 40%

Why are meetings always an hour long by default?

The meeting culture in the office landscape often predicates one hour meetings by default. Most digital calendars are even set on one hour by default. Why is this the case and does it have to be like this?
Studies show that after 45 minutes we drop our ability to concentrate significally. We need a break. This is why I suggest that no meeting should ever be longer than 45 minutes. Sure, we could have another meeting with similar agenda, but rehashing the same agenda just for the sake of filling up the time doesn’t serve anyone.

Parkinson’s law

Maybe you’ve heard of Parkinson law, which states that work will expand to fill up the time we set up for it to be completed. If you have a task that has to be finished next year, are you going to get started on the task right away? Of course not. Probably you won’t start until there’s only one week left. Then maybe you will look into what it was you boss wanted you to do a year ago.
The same goes with meetings. If you schedule a meeting for 45 minutes instead of an hour, you are going to do everything it takes to get the agenda cleared within 45 minutes and not an hour.

Let me introduce the FLEX meeting method.

The flex meeting method is a method to decrease the time we spend on meetings. By default we set a meeting for an hour. Why would all meetings suddenly be finished after an hour?

This method was invented to reduce meeting time and give more productive meetings.

The result (among other things) for people who have tried the FLEX meeting method:

  • People came super prepared
  • The meeting time could be reduced to up to 50%
  • There was a clear action plan after the meeting (no loose ends)
  • No topic was big or small enough, and everyone got to speak what was on their minds.

The core and the additional

There are two components in a FLEX meeting structure: the CORE (or the mandatory) and the ADDITIONAL. The meeting organizer sets up an agenda with the CORE items on the agenda, and during the meeting everyone gets to speak up and add items to the agenda. Both parts are equally important though, so just a meeting with the core issues is not a full FLEX meeting.

How to attend to a flex meeting

There are some ground rules if you want to convert to the flex meeting method with your team. The rules goes as follows:

Before the meeting:

  1. In order to attend you have to prepare. Don’t come empty-handed with nothing to say. You need to prepare with your questions and your agenda items before the meeting.
  2. Estimate time (in minutes) for every item you bring to the agenda.
  3. The chairman can suggest a topic for the meeting, but it’s not set in stone.
  4. Everyone sends their contribution to the chairman in time for them to prepare and send out the preliminary agenda.

During the meeting:

Step 1: Choose and assing the meeting roles: (3 minutes)

  • Chairman
  • Time keeper
  • Facilitator/secretary
  • The participants = whoever is joining the meeting

Step 2: After stating the CORE issues, everyone contributes to the agenda during a round (5-10 minutes depending on how many participants there are)
1. The facilitator writes every item on a whiteboard.
2. When everyone has said what they want and estimated the time for their agenda items, the facilitator sums up the estimated time for the meeting. Normally an item will take about 5-10 minutes to introduce and to discuss briefly.

When everyone has gotten to say what they want to get up on the whiteboard and the facilitator has written everything down it’s time to start the meeting.

How to keep the scheduled time for the meeting

  • If a topic takes more than the estimated time, the speaker must buy meeting time from someone else in order for the meeting not to be longer than the estimate.
  • Everyone can contribute to the agenda during the round.
  • No additional items gets on the agenda after the meeting starts.
  • Everything is equally important. (If someone wants to discuss Susan’s wedding gift, it’s as important as if someone else wants to discuss the quarterly report.)
  • No item on the agenda should be longer than 10 minutes.
  • If you need to dig deep into a subject, schedule a specific deep work meeting instead where you can resolve this issue.
  • No whining, office politics or small talk. This is for another meeting or during coffee breaks.
  • If you want to place a complaint you can do so, but you have to estimate time for it.
  • You have to count in the time for discussion when you estimate the time for your agenda item.
  • The time keeper shows no mercy: if you have to stop in the middle of a sentence you have to buy time from someone else. Example: You can buy a minute to finish the sentence, or you can postpone the subject to a later meeting if you want to sell your meeting time to someone else.
  • If you all agree, you can add additional minutes to the meeting agenda to “buy” from. These minutes belong to everyone and can be negotiated.

What if you need more time to discuss your agenda item?

If you have an item that you know will take more than 10 minutes, present the idea and suggest that you schedule a separate meeting for this. You can introduce the idea and people can start to get prepared. Let’s say that you have a new innovation or project idea. Your colleagues have to get the chance to get aligned with your idea before they can say anything about it. Your topic for today’s agenda can be “introduce new project idea” and during 5 minutes you present a brief overview of your project idea.

Here’s a list of things to keep in mind during the FLEX meeting

  • Everyone attends the meeting with the items they want to add to the CORE agenda.
  • Attend the meeting in good time before the meeting starts.
  • Everyone gets to introduce their items for the agenda and the estimated time.
  • The chairman is keeping track of the items on the agenda.
  • The chairman gives the word to everyone else.
  • The time keepers job is to keep time and make sure that the speaker doesn’t overdue their estimated time.
  • Suggest an action plan. The facilitator writes down the action plan on the whiteboard.
    10 items tops on the list.

Tips to facilitate the meeting

You can use the Eisenhower method, which is a 2×2 matrix to decide the urgency and importance of a topic.

You can decide on a topic for the meeting beforehand. The person initiating the meeting will get to decide the CORE items and sends them out in good time to the facilitator and the attendees.

The CORE can be different things depending on the meeting. Let’s say the meeting is all about Susan’s wedding gift. The CORE is what to give to Susan, and you can come up with suggestions and ideas for Susan’s gift during the whole meeting time. But if the CORE of the meeting is the quarterly report, you might want to postpone Susan’s wedding gift discussion for another meeting.

So what is the deal with the flex meeting method?

Meetings take the time we set up for it to take.
If we schedule one hour for the meeting we will usually use the whole hour to discuss everything we want even if it could be done in half an hour.
Our workdays are hijacked by endless and time wasting meetings.
The hard truth is that a majority of meetings are totally unnecessary and wouldn’t have to exist at all.

The 80/20 rule of meetings

A tip is to apply the Pareto principle that says that 80% of the output stem from 20% of the input.
Dissect every meeting and ask yourselves: what was the most important things we got from this meeting? Analyze meetings from the past and pinpoint the meetings that actually led to significant results.

The hard truth is: a lot of meetings could be an email instead. If that’s the case: wouldn’t it be nice not to be harassed by your coworkers all the time and instead be able to read that email in quiet and solitude? (For us introverts this is a dream come true.)

Can every meeting be a FLEX meeting?

Well, yes and no. I would say it depends.
The method is great for short ad hoc meetings and more casual meetings. But if you want to discuss something thoroughly and deeply, consider scheduling a deep work meeting instead where you can dive deep into the topic at hand.

Go flex!

Now go flex your new wisdom and implement a FLEX meeting at your office next time.
Refer to this article if your coworkers frown. Or you could schedule a FLEX meeting about whether or not you should start with FLEX meetings at your office! 🤓)

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