Collision 2018 was touted as “North America’s fastest growing tech conference” and with more than 20,000 attendees and over 5000 companies represented from across the globe, that much was clear. While I was eager to descend on this colossal event, I was not expecting to be genuinely surprised – the most valuable lesson I took away from my experience in New Orleans had little to do with tech and everything to do with time.
What was it about time that made Collision so impressive? This event was operating like a well-oiled machine. Immediately my first impression was “wow” – with speakers rotating every 20 minutes across multiple tracks and featured startups rotating daily, this conference did not leave room for mismanagement of time. It was this very simple, yet incredibly impactful observation that got me thinking about the power of respecting the time-box.
Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer, Microsoft
Why high performance is a matter of time
As an Agile Delivery Lead, I have spent a substantial amount of my career coaching teams and organizations on what it takes to be “high-performing.” This is usually an optimistic yet obtuse goal, in that it’s often measured by leadership in the context of variables like velocity, time-to-market, and number of requirements completed. All of these do have value, but they miss much of the foundational aspects of a team that enable what I believe to be the true meaning of high performance.
How many times have you started a meeting and had one or more colleagues show up late, which required you to start over? Have you ever attended a meeting with certain expectations that were never met – because the first topic ran so long that you now have to schedule another meeting to continue working toward your original anticipated outcomes? If these scenarios sound familiar, it’s because they are for many others, including myself.
The power of “running a tight ship”
In working with engineering teams, I have had countless conversations around the value of the time-box and how critical it is to start and stop on time, every time. For some reason, this becomes one of the first things to go when the rubber hits the road. For an event like Collision, there was absolutely no room for speakers to run over, even by one minute. This would have created a domino effect for not only the other speakers, but also the thousands of people orchestrating their schedules across various tracks.
People are considered the most valuable asset to any organization, so why is it that we so easily disregard the only true measure of value for a person, and that is their time?
Optimize your meetings with these time-conscious tips
This reflection has prompted me to take a look at how I structure meetings and to ensure that I’m always respecting the time of each participant. It’s so important to having meaningful meetings and interactions with our colleagues so I decided to resurrect some of the most powerful tips and tricks I’ve taken away from my clients, peers, and leaders over the years.
- Schedule meetings for less time than the traditional time-box, creating buffers for participants to physically move from one room or building to the next, or to take a quick break (for example, 20 minutes instead of 30, 50 minutes instead of 60… you get the idea).
- As the facilitator, use a timer and hold yourself accountable to starting it and stopping it consistently.
- Use a clear agenda of expected outcomes to establish context for your audience ahead of time. Ensuring that the right audience is in attendance is far more important than just getting any
- Create a value proposition that makes it clear, “what’s in it for me?” so that your attendees not only want to participate, they understand why they need to.
- Thank people for their time – and mean it – by respecting the boundaries laid out for the meeting and following through on anything discussed or promised in the meeting.
Simplicity is often the best place to start
I hope these sentiments can provide some food for thought when considering what it takes for teams to achieve that elusive benchmark of high performance, or perhaps what it takes for each of us to be top performers in our own right. Small changes can have tremendous impacts over time, so give it a shot – maybe that next 20-minute meeting you schedule will be the most meaningful of your week.