Meetings – are they effective and how much do you remember once you leave?

Written by: Jordan Tinney

Published On: February 1st 2012

I just read the latest issue of Education Canada. The article that caught my attention was helping students overcome forgetting. They started the article by saying that the phenomenon of forgetting – how to prevent it, has been a hot research topic for over 100 years. Studies have suggested that two thirds of knowledge that students successfully remember at the end of a course is forgotten eight weeks later. What horrified me was the statement that research has shown that “we forget up to 60 percent of learned information just an hour after the learning takes place.”

For me, my mind went immediately to my day to day work which is in district leadership. Much of what I do is through/in meetings. Is it possible that only one hour after a meeting people only remember 40 % of the knowledge shared? What does this mean for my work and practice?

For most of my blogs, I’ve offered thoughts and my opinion. In this one, here is some practical advice for helping meetings be more effective. While I am no expert, I certainly have a lot of experience and think of this topic often. We are experimenting with a different meeting structure for what we call our Field Services team (about 12 people). What we have found is that we spend a lot of time in longer meetings and many details of just the day to day tasks get lost or aren’t well communicated. So we wanted a structure to help us with the details between and amongst our team members. Here is the format we follow:

  1. There is an agenda
  2. No item can be more than 5 minutes. If we can’t do it in 5 minutes, something is wrong.
  3. Anyone can add to the agenda but if you do, we ask for pre-planning. Is the item just for our information, do you need our advice on how to proceed, or do you want help making a decision? AID – Advice, Information, Decision.
  4. We always want to know the “ask” – what do you want from our team for this agenda item? Sometimes it’s just to listen and to know what’s going on.
  5. We only meet for 1 hour. That’s it. We start on time, we end on time. Most times we end early.
  6. The chair’s job is to move the meeting along. It’s hard work, but people understand that we want to be quick and effective.
  7. There are minutes shared.

From what I’ve seen so far, I think it’s been a very strong success. We have many other meetings where we truly use an hour, sometimes more, to wrestle with complex topics. However, to get things done, to work as a team, to make sure everyone is aware of what’s going on – the above format is a good option.

At the last meeting, I added one thing. I was listening to a show on CBC about effective meetings. They said that if you just take 90 seconds (that’s all) at the end of a meeting to summarize the “action” items and who is responsible, it makes a big difference. So at the last meeting we did just that. We left feeling good about what happened, what we’re doing, and we knew who was taking the lead. Consistent with research, I can’t tell you all the details of the discussions we had, but I do remember who was doing what when we left. Next meeting, our first 5 minute item is to refer to the last meeting’s notes to see if we actually accomplished what we said we would. That way as well, we build a sense of accomplishment as we look back and move forward.

As a final note, as I watch more and more influx of technology into meetings, I can’t help but think that it isn’t helping us be more effective. Guilty as charged, I sit in meetings with my iPad at my side. Given that I’m only likely to remember 40% of the material one hour later, I don’t really think that keeping one eye on my email is helping at all. But that’s a topic for another blog. I’ll email myself a reminder….

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