The Science of Meetings and Lessons: How to Make Them Productive

A headteacher colleague of mine said he spent 9 hours in a meeting this week.  Think about that for a minute.  Then try and think about it for 32,400 minutes and it becomes rather difficult.  As someone once said, “everyone should take part in meetings, even the participants.”

The science of meetings and how to make them better has become of academic interest of late and at CST Thahmina Begum has even produced a proforma to try and make them better, the first part of which is below (let me know if you want the rest). I suspect we have had some impact, but not enough as we would have hoped. 

It’s hard not to consider the amount of time wasted or unproductive in meetings, and also hard to recall the details of meetings that happened as recently as one week ago.  Any way of making them shorter and more focused is probably going to be a win all round.

Unproductive time also happens in lessons.  As Ms Begum also pointed out in her recent blog, quoting a study by Kraft et al, the average time lost in lessons to interruptions (student behaviour, other colleagues popping in etc) was estimated by teachers to be a minimum of 6.5 minutes per lesson.  Totalled up, it equates to nearly 20 days of instructional time per year - enough to classify children as persistent absentees!

We’re professionals and we really should try and get a grip.  Aim for shorter meetings.  And control your lessons so the children don’t become absent in plain sight.

Meeting Maestros 

Notes and ideas from ‘How to fix meetings’ by Graham Allcott and Hayley Watts

The 40:20:40 continuum

The 40:20:40 continuum describes how we should direct our energy and attention in relation to each meeting:

  • 40% on the preparation for the meeting
  • 20% on the meeting itself
  • 40% on the productive follow-through

It’s what happens outside of the meeting that makes the difference. If the preparation and organisation of a meeting is not thought through with due attention, the meeting itself can end up being unproductive and leave attendees feeling annoyed, frustrated and even angry. Therefore, a significant portion of our energy should go into the preparation of a meeting. Likewise, if the follow through after the meeting does not happen, the meeting is unsuccessful. 

See the grid below for actions one may take along the 40:20:40 continuum.

The purpose statement

Every meeting should have a purpose statement: a sentence or two that clearly states exactly why you are meeting and what the meeting is trying to achieve.

There should be a different purpose statement even for recurring meetings. This will help attendees understand the relevance of the meeting and the relevance of their attendance to the meeting.

Examples of purpose statementsSuggested wording
Recurring meetingsBy the end of the meeting we will have:Highlighted the main P8 subject priorities for the schoolIdentified the groups of students who are our biggest concernsDecided on the actions for interventions One - off operational meetingsBy the end of the meeting we will have:Agreed the scope of the problemDiscusses our barriers to solving itConfirmed the individual actions to overcome the barriers over the next half termAlways start with: by the end of the meeting we will have… Verbs to use:Decided/AgreedDiscussedResolvedLearnedConfirmedNoted/ReceivedIdentified

Intended outcomes

Help participants understand the purpose of each item in the agenda; it will encourage attendees to invest in your meeting and clarify their purpose in attending the meeting.

Some examples:

ItemTimeOwnerIntended outcome
Pass Test Results10xxTo understand what the data is showing and pastoral team to come up with support plan for targeted students

The roles within a meeting

Everyone has a part to play, including participants. Meeting participants must understand their role in achieving the purpose of the meeting; it is not just down to the chair or meeting organiser. By attending a meeting, you make it partly your responsibility to make it a success. 

The grid below outlines specific roles within a meeting with 

  • suggested (not exhaustive) measures of success 
  • high frequency errors often committed within that role

Consider the following questions: 

  • How far do you achieve the measures of success for your role within a meeting?
  • Have you committed any of the high frequency errors?
  • Have you seen any of the high frequency errors in meetings you have run / attended?