Flipped Meetings: How to Make Meetings Shorter and More Effective

Flipped Meetings: How to Make Meetings Shorter and More Effective

February 17, 2021

It feels like an unbeatable problem. There are too many meetings. There isn’t any time to do your own work. You feel exhausted by the end of the day from staring at a grid of faces.

But there’s nothing you can do, right? Meetings are where work happens. Meetings are where relationships are built. To cut time in meetings would be to sacrifice productivity and effectiveness.

Many professionals and in particular, most managers, struggle with this tension. They know they need to spend less time in meetings, but they don’t feel that they can.

The data and the anecdotes are grim. Around 65% of leaders in one study said that “meetings keep them from completing their own work” and “come at the expense of deep thinking.” More than three-quarters of people (78%) feel that their meeting schedule is either always or sometimes out of control. Due to lack of time to complete their own work or ineffectiveness of meetings, 92% of people admit to multi-tasking during meetings with almost half saying they multi-task during meetings “often” or “all the time.”

But meetings are worth it, right? Maybe not. In the same study cited earlier, 71% of managers said that meetings are often “unproductive and inefficient” and 62% said they don’t bring the team closer together. The truth is meetings are costly. They require all participants to be present at the same time to go through all the same content at the same pace – and pre-COVID, often, to be in the same physical location.

Characteristics of Effective Meetings

We need to accurately assess the costs of meetings before assuming that they should be the default way to get work done. By assuming a more measured – and less optimistic – view of meetings, you can reserve them for the situations in which they are truly additive. Effective meetings have 3 simple characteristics:

  1. They are small: Ideally less than 5 people, no more than 10. C Northcote Parkinson said that meetings of five people were “most likely to act with competence, secrecy, and speed,” while above 9, “the organism begins to perish.”
  2. They are filled with discussion: Information flows between multiple parties in real-time rather than flowing from a single person to others.
  3. They focus on complex topics that can’t be easily described or settled in quick written correspondences. The topics require a good deal of back and forth.

Depending on which survey you look to, it seems that most professionals and companies do a fair job keeping the number of large meetings to a minimum. Several studies suggest that only 5-10% of meetings include over 10 people, though one study of 3M from 1990 found that 39% of meetings had over 10 people.

Unfortunately, however, our assumption, based on anecdotal evidence from those we work with, suggests that people fare worse on the other two characteristics. Too much time is spent in meetings when one person presents or each group shares without any interaction.

Presentations and their many one-sided information flow variants do not require meetings. By inserting them into meetings, you cost yourself and others time while diluting the effectiveness of meetings.

Consider a 30-minute meeting with 4 people that includes 20 minutes of presentation. One team member only needs to hear the last 5 minutes of the presentation, while another team member may only need to hear the first 10 minutes, and a third team member may have heard the presentation already. In one 30-minute increment, this group has just lost 35 minutes of work time (10 + 5 + 20) or 30% of the total work hours used during the meeting.

Extrapolate this out to a day, during which the average person spends 3.2 hours in meetings, and you find that every person would lose an hour a day to listening to the information in meetings they don’t need to hear.

How can you reclaim this time, enabling you to shorten meetings and make them more effective for people? Let’s borrow a lesson from the field of education.

Inspiration from the Flipped Classroom

In 2007, two teachers in Colorado, Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams, came up with a creative solution to a common problem faced by educators: how do you get materials to kids who are out sick? In what seems simple today, they took the revolutionary step to record their lectures and make them available via online videos.

Bergman and Sams weren’t the first to come up with this idea, however. Salman Khan began recording videos for a younger cousin he was tutoring in 2004 because she wanted to be able to skip parts of the videos she already knew and replay parts she was struggling to understand. Four years later, Salman Khan founded Khan Academy on this very principle.

Researchers back as far as the 1990s had also pointed in this direction. Alison King published a paper in 1993, aptly describing the transition, “From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side.” But it took a while to gain traction, likely in part because the needed technology still wasn’t widespread at the time.

Then, in 2011, one of Michigan’s worst high schools, located just outside of Detroit, decided to give it a more concerted shot. It began with one social studies class, but after a semester, it flipped the whole school based on early success. The results were outstanding:

“On average we approximated a 30 percent failure rate,” said Green. “With flipping, it dropped to under 10 percent.” Graduation rates rose dramatically, and are now over 90 percent. College attendance went from 63 percent in 2010 to 80 percent in 2012.

Michigan’s Clintondale High School isn’t an exception either. Our review of 6 meta-analyses comparing flipped classrooms to traditional lecture-style classrooms find that flipped classrooms lead to better academic results and satisfaction regardless of the discipline, field of study, or education level – with few exceptions. (See the full list of studies below.)

The field of education has 15 years of experience demonstrating that flipped classrooms lead to better outcomes and more positive experiences. How can you realize these gains, in addition to the savings of time and inconvenience, in the workplace?

What Meetings Should You Flip to Boost Effectiveness?

Find meetings or parts of meetings that consist of one-sided information flow and push the information-sharing parts into recordings that are shared in advance or in place of the meeting. Here are several common meetings that are ripe for flipping:

Team Updates: It’scommon for senior members of a team to participate in meetings more junior members are not invited to attend. Typically, team leadership spend a significant portion of the next team meeting updating the full team on what happened in those conversations. Rather than wait for the next team meeting (increasing the likelihood you’ll forget something) and hogging up time needed for  discussion, send a video or audio file to the team with the update and then reserve meeting time for questions or further discussion about the update, as needed.

Presentations: Do your teams regularly present their work to internal leaders, other interdependent teams, and/or clients for feedback? Do the presentation in advance and then save meeting time for discussion of feedback and next steps.

Delegating: Managers often meet with team members to explain the next task or project they would like them to complete. Team members spend these meetings frantically taking notes to ensure they don’t miss any important details. They are so focused on comprehending the assignment that they often don’t have the mental bandwidth or time to think of their questions. Their questions get pushed to follow-up emails or skipped as they struggle through the first few steps.

Instead of putting team members through this process and wasting meeting time, send a video to your team members explaining the assignment and as needed, walking them through the details of how to complete the work on your computer using screenshare capturing tools. If additional team members are added to the project, there’s no need to repeat your whole explanation. Simply send them the video.

Status Updates: In the move to remote work, many teams have added daily standups or status update meetings to their daily schedule – even if they are not embracing agile project management methods more broadly. Standups are helpful live meetings if back-and-forth discussion over complex topics takes place. But, if your standups consist primarily of brief share-outs of progress and next steps, there is likely no need for a meeting. Share these updates in your project management app, Slack (see how below), or via video and then save meeting time for real discussion.

This list is not exhaustive. Use it a starting point for analyzing which of your meetings or parts of your meetings can be flipped. Try to push the limits by flipping more and more of your work-focused meetings. Don’t quickly assume certain parts of meetings must happen synchronously.

For example, most would think that brainstorming meetings should steer clear of flipping. But the science of creativity shows that teams generate more creative ideas when they spend time generating ideas individually before discussing them as a team. Send a video with context for the brainstorm before the meeting and ask participants to come with a list of ideas. Then, spend the meeting time vetting and building on each other’s ideas, which is what teams do best.

Technology to Make Flipped Meetings Effective

Unlike 2007 when Bergman and Sams valiantly attempted to flip their classrooms, today, there are a number of apps you can use to make flipped meetings easy, efficient, and even more effective than in-person meetings.

Video-Recording Apps

To flip meetings efficiently, you will want to use a video recording and sharing app. These apps generally have the following features:

  • Easily record videos: Most apps enable you to begin a recording from any browser window using their browser plugin. Some have desktop applications so you can start new recordings on any screen.
  • Multiple recording options: You’ll want to pick an app that enables you to record your webcam, your screen, or both.
  • Store and share videos quickly: One of the hassles of working with videos previously was the long wait times for uploading videos to the cloud or the challenge of sharing via email given their large file size. These apps solve these problems by storing your video directly to the cloud and giving you easy ways to embed in emails or a link to share.

In addition to these standard features, here are a number of other features some of these apps include:

  • Quick video editing: Trim the beginning or end of your video.
  • Reactions: Viewers can add comments and react to your video with emojis.
  • Customizable viewing speed: You can watch the videos up to 2x faster than it takes to present it.
  • Calls-to-action: Add links to design files and other resources for viewers to reference.
  • Animated video previews: Automatically generate a 3-second GIF preview to embed into your emails.
  • Video personalization: Create a unique message for each recipient with videos that can be personalized on demand.
  • Analytics dashboards: Get insight into video performance metrics like views over time and aggregate attention spans.
  • Individual viewer details: Identify who’s watching your videos, what they’re watching, and for how long.

These apps also boast a growing number of integrations with the other tools many businesses use today, including CRM software, social media management software, email applications, website hosting platforms, and analytic tools.

Here are four of the most popular video-sharing apps:

VidYard

In addition to most of the features described above, VidYard has a Slack app that makes it easy to record and share VidYard videos in Slack and an Outlook plug-in that makes it easy to add your VidYard videos into Outlook without leaving your email application.

Loom

BombBomb

Like VidYard, BombBomb also has an Outlook add-in that makes adding your videos to emails even simpler.

Vimeo

Based on our review of these apps, they are very similar. You can see how 3 of these 4 stack up in this Capterra comparison (doesn’t include Loom). One of the biggest differences between these apps is the presence or lack of desktop application. All of them allow you to record your screen when outside of your browser, but only those with desktop applications allow you to record your screen and webcam while outside of your browser (e.g., while walking through a PowerPoint presentation). BombBomb and Loom have desktop versions for Mac and PC and Vimeo has a desktop version for Mac.

While less flexible, if you’d prefer to stick with the Microsoft products you’re used to, you can create video and audio files directly in OneNote pages with one click of a button. This is a very efficient way to communicate with collaborators if you’re already using shared OneNote notebooks.

Standup Bots:

As mentioned earlier, daily standup meetings or scrums can be replaced or shortened in many cases by pushing the presentation component of the standups to asynchronous communication. Fortunately, a number of apps within Slack and Microsoft Teams automate this process by sending team members a set of questions before or in place of your actual standup meeting. The results are then aggregated and posted to relevant channel so that you have a clear, lasting record of your day-to-day or week-to-week progress.

This post by Geekbot gives you a good sense of how the Slack apps work and goes deep on three of the more popular ones. Troopr.ai offers a free version for Slack, as do Standuply and Range (learn more here). Microsoft Teams also has a number of apps that perform this function. Here’s one, though you can find more by searching apps in Teams.

How to Get Started on the Journey to More Effective Meetings

Flipping a substantial amount of your time in meetings may seem outlandish, if not impossible. And yes, flipped meetings do represent a significant shift in how most people do work, but for many, a significant shift is necessary. Too many leaders cannot continue giving their best hours to endless meetings while pushing their hardest, highest value work to the nights when they’re exhausted or the weekends when they’re unmotivated.

You may need a significant shift, but you can tiptoe into the shift. Try flipped meetings first where the risk is the lowest and you’re likely to get the best results: in 1-on-1 internal meetings. If you manage people, start flipping meetings with them first. Those first experiments can help you understand your work culture’s openness to this shift.

Your primary concern may be that people won’t watch the videos you make, causing important information to fall through the cracks. This is a legitimate concern, but there are several actions you can take to mitigate this risk:

  • Include an “assignment” alongside the video you send (e.g., Please come to our next meeting with at least one question or comment on this video update. / Post any revisions to the materials before our next meeting.)
  • Check the video analytics to see how many people watch the video and, if configured properly, to see who watched the video and then send reminders as needed.
  • Explain the benefits and get their buy-in in advance (e.g., I’m going to cut our upcoming meeting by 45 minutes and instead, send a recording of our presentation that you can watch in advance at any pace you would like. Would that work for you?).

If you find that people simply won’t watch videos or do any pre-work for meetings in your workplace, then you have a counterproductive workplace culture. Try to change the culture but recognize that change may be slow and start where you have the most influence.


More Zarvana Articles on Meeting Effectiveness

Meta-analyses on Flipped Classroom: