This post is also available in: German
This is a fact almost everybody knows or has already heard about: We spend too much time in meetings. Seemingly endless monologues and discussions without any results are often daily business. They are not only tiring, but can even be frustrating for the participants.
While sitting in a meeting, the actual work often needs to wait. Or even worse: At the end of the meeting, the to-do list is longer than before. According to a Microsoft study, the pandemic has increased the number of (virtual) meetings and calls by even 50 percent. Actually, sending an invitation to an online meeting is so much easier than persuading someone to participate in any kind of in-person meeting. Consequently, each issue that needs to be clarified results in another appointment in your calendar.
Almost Nobody Improves Bad Meetings
As we obviously waste much valuable time in bad meetings, almost nobody has the capacity to improve the meeting or take a look at the meeting culture itself. Preparing and following up a meeting effectively, would be a first step in the right direction. Unfortunately, this is something almost nobody cares about. As a result, one bad meeting leads to another meeting which might be even worse.
How can meetings be structured better?
The new five finger template solves this problem by using five basic question categories that help you to structure your next meeting. The idea: preparing meetings easily and quickly while focusing on valuable results and productive exchange. If you apply this template correctly, you can reduce the duration and number of meetings and at the same time increase your meeting outcomes. Now you can really enjoy hybrid work.
Especially the question “How…?” shows that a meeting benefits enormously from being well-organized and from using simple moderation techniques. In unstructured meetings free speech is often the dominating method where the loudest or most extroverted person speaks. People often forget that it is really easy to get comprehensive meeting results by only doing some preparation work.
Try it in your next meeting and call one person after another. This enables everybody to articulate their thoughts on a topic in one or two sentences or a timebox of thirty seconds.
When do I use the 5 Finger Template?
This template is useful for you if you have to run and frame meetings, for example as a manager, a team or project leader, an agile coach, a team member or as a moderator. You can use it on your own or with your team and it works for all types of meetings: in-person, online or hybrid.
This Is How the Template 5 Finger Method Works
Start on the left and answer the questions along the fingers to the right. Answer them in keywords on sticky notes. If you do this for the very first time, you can set up a timer for fifteen minutes directly on the board. Write your thoughts on each single question without thinking about it too long. Go through your sticky notes in a second round for the same duration (here: 15 minutes) and specify your answers. Every answer is better than no answer, as most meetings are not prepared at all. So don’t struggle with yourself for the perfect solution and wording.
In the beginning it might be unaccustomed, but in the course of time you will get quicker and a good preparation will eventually take you only about 5 minutes. This is because you are used to it and because you start thinking about the relevant questions.
(1) Category WHY
This category is about setting the meeting goals.
- What is the purpose of the meeting? For example, there is a difficult issue XY with highly controversial opinions that are blocking progress.
- What is meant to be different afterwards? For example, there is a common understanding of the problem XY, there are at least two appropriate solutions and there is a decision about which solution is to be realized when and by whom.
Do not be surprised if it is difficult to fill in this category at the beginning. For most of us it is uncommon to think about meeting goals as they seem to be hard to grasp.
(2) Category WHAT
This is about choosing the relevant topics.
- Which topics need to be worked on? Exchanging opinions on topic XY, developing solutions, making decisions on how to proceed, for example.
- Which questions need to be clarified? For example, what is the biggest challenge regarding topic XY? How can you solve these challenges easily and specifically? What can you do to foster one of the identified solutions?
(3) Category WHO
Here you write down the names of expected attendees.
- Who will participate? A list of expected participants or at least a number, for example.
- How many and where? Essential information, especially for hybrid meetings. 10 participants in-person and 8 participants online, for example.
(4) Category WHEN
This is about setting the time, or more precisely, date and time.
- When will the meeting take place? For example, 10th February 2023, for example from 10:00 – 11:30.
(5) Category HOW
Here you have to decide upon the working methods and the tools in order to increase participation and to get comprehensive results.
- How will you get together? Online via Teams, in-person in the meeting room 123. Hybrid via Teams in the meeting room 345, for example.
- Which tools will be used? Conceptboard, Excel and OneNote, for example.
- Which methods are helpful? Check-in, check-out, surveys, calls or a silent minute, for example.
- How to document the results? Making notes during the meeting on Conceptboard, writing a report after the meeting in OneNote or collecting the results with a survey tool such as Google Forms.
Advice: In the german book “Mit hybriden Teams mehr erreichen” you find a comprehensive list of simple and helpful methods, where this template has also been taken from. Use the provided sticky notes to prepare the meeting agenda yourself or simply share your 5 Finger Method-Template with the participants. Ideally, you can share the goals (category WHY), the issues (category WHAT) as well as the place with the participants in advance. If you work on Conceptboard, just share the boardlink to visualize the meeting goals for everyone.
Alternatively, you can export the preparations on your board as .pdf or in the image format .png in order to send them via mail or messenger.
Improving Meetings by Using a Simple Meeting Design
We have always recognized that some people do take their time to prepare meetings, but that this time is not spent effectively. This template is the result of our years of experience in the field of moderating and designing meetings and workshops. It helps you to concentrate on the most important things while preparing the meeting.
It is really essential to think about the five finger questions in advance. There is one big advantage: If you fix the answers on Conceptboard, they can be shown in the meeting. Besides that, you have a board where you can work on interactively.
At the same time it is possible to send the boardlink with a specific task in advance. This enables the participants to collect ideas on the board before the actual meeting, so in the meeting you can immediately start with the discussion. Here you can also refine and vote the results, which is one of our favorite functions in Conceptboard. By the way, collecting ideas and opinions on the board asynchronously is one of the most effective ways to save meeting time as the background noise of the meeting often steers the concentration to specific points or issues. Ideas can develop without outside influences, which can be the basis for exchange. Being external moderators, we use this template almost daily, even when it comes to order clarification. This does not only saves us time, but also creates common clarity about the goals and the proceeding regarding the following appointment. Another advantage is the fact that the customer directly gets to know Conceptboard as our collaborative platform.
About the Authors
Gesine Engelage-Meyer likes to connect worlds. Being a technical business economist, she is a great supporter of smart processes. Being a change manager as well, she knows that collaborative work is always the deciding factor for success or failure. During her 15 years of working experience in big companies and during her work as a sought-after moderator and coach, she has learnt to teach complex structures easily and to encourage people to leave their comfort zones. She lives with her family in Hamburg. www.teamelephant.de
Sonja Hanau gives her best to have less, but more effective meetings. For more than ten years, the business information specialist has been providing an appropriate frame for people to unfold their potential and reach their goals with the help of adequate techniques and appropriate structures. She supports companies during the development of a new meeting and collaborative culture. In her presentations and workshops she combines leading and technical skills with a sense of ease and humor. She lives with her family near Frankfurt. www.meetingschmiede.de
About the Book
“Mit hybriden Teams mehr erreichen“, published by Business Village in 2022, is the practical guideline for all teams that work from home and in the office as well. It provides useful methods, tools and structures for successful hybrid working. Compact knowledge with 100% practical relevance. Reading Sample.
Would you like to learn more about the two authors and their book? Then register now for the free webinar “Nie wieder schlechte Meetings!” on December 12, 2022 (14:00-15:00) and take the opportunity for a personal exchange. Please note that the webinar will be held in german.