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Stop the callmania – start agile & healthy meetings

18 August 2016
Dr. Tobias Kiefer

Stop the callmania – start agile & healthy meetings

Minimum 1/3 of the time in average meeting is considered to be unproductive by the meeting participants. Approximately 220 million meetings are conducted each month in „corporate america“ – more than half of them run for 30 – 90 minutes. More (frustrations) on this topic on


On top of that you can now add all the calls (you probably know that sentence „you are the first participant in this meeting. The line will be silent until other participants join.“), webinars and other real-time collaboration techniques.

Don’t get me wrong: Collaboration matters – and the more we move to the „teleworker-world“, the more those real-time collaborations will help us to stay connected and to have important mechanics like „healthy conflict“ in place. Read Geoff Colvin’s „Humans Are Underrated“ – read the section about AAR (After Action Review) and its impact it had on re-shaping military training and commmunication. Collaboration matters – no doubts about the WHY we are doing this – I challenge the HOW we do it here.

Do you know that feeling at the end of the day, you realized that your job as leader feels a bit like an outbound-callcenter-agent: 6-10 hrs of calls (usually back to back) where you experience „guided reading exercises“, problem solving, calls where basic rules of communication (those our parents hopefully have taught us) are getting ignored etc. The end of the day: you are feeling worn out, you skipped your workout and your attention span was approximately at a level after consuming 6 beers (no joke: this is approximately you mental ability after 6 straight hours of calls/ meetings without taking a vital break – these are not the breaks where you check your emails …).

The 2nd disease: why are all calls 30 or 60 minutes long? Are all problems, presentations and discussions of similar complexity and importance?

People knowing me know me for making vitality and agile leadership a priority. Therefore I started a mini-experiment with myself and by interviewing a few Executives. The hypothesis: there must be a way to make meetings a „healthy place“.

Here we go – 3 rules to more healthy collaboration:

Rule 1: Count steps instead of minutes J. This sounds strange but it works: you know – hopefully – by own experience: the more you are relaxed, the slower you walk – the more you are engaged (emotionally engaged, be it positive or negative), the faster you walk. Now: Tell your call-participants: „I have reserved appr. 6.000 steps for this conversation – in a neutral mental state, this should give us 25 minutes. What would you like to achieve in this time?“ Off you go …. – you will see: the more you are leaning in, the faster the call is over. The only thing to keep in mind: give your call participants a status here and there telling them „buckle-up – we are only 1.500 steps away from the end of the call“.

Some personal statistics:

* A highly engaged call – e.g. a call where I coach someone in my team:

- Engagement (personal self-assessment): 9 out of 10

- Length: 22 min

- Steps: 5,644

* A disengaged call – e.g., a „guided reading conference call“:

- Engagement (personal self-assessment): 4 out of 10

- Length: 45 min

- Steps: 6,931

* An average call – one where your perspective is required – joint problem solving:

- Engagement (personal self assessment): 7 out of 10

- Length: 30 min (was scheduled by the team for 30 min J)

- Steps: 6,120

In summary: the more engaged I am the faster I walk = the more agile my interaction with the caller(s) and the more healthy for myself. Isn’t that what we call „win-win“?

A nice side effect: In case I am angry about something and running out of patience in the call – the positive impact of walking is very obvious: I can let the steam out by walking faster or more energetic before showing my impatience to my team. Again: win-win – agile & healthy!

3 benefits for your call/ meeting culture:

  1. You make the meeting fun and disruptive in its design – boosting engagement and fostering participants to get to the point
  2. You are enabling yourself to be a better listener and problem solver – we know that the body and the mind are connected => Steve Jobs is just one of many top executives having walking meetings. Nice side-effect: you listen better instead of cleaning-up your inbox while simulating your attention
  3. You are doing something to stay vital – sitting is the new cancer; walking is the vaccine to protect you from early aging and those modern society diseases

Rule 2: Run Flipped Meetings: Instead of presenting in those calls, the essence of the presenter’s view/ proposals has been shared through social media channels – ideally in a 2 min video/ voice message. The meeting itself is there to ask clarifying questions (step 1), re-adjusting the proposal by the presenter (step 2) and making a joint decision (step 3). There is no guided reading, „echoing what the others just said“ and all these status-feeding behaviors leading to disengagement.

Rule 3: Run Learning Meetings: No meeting anymore without the final question: what can we learn from this call that makes the next one even better? No meeting anymore without a succinct rating of its effectiveness. I personally use a tool called aboutmyspeech ( which allows me to get a meeting rating within seconds by attaching a QR-code in the meeting invitation. If you want to become better – you need to stop being afraid of the truth.

Alright – that is enough disruption for the moment. Get started with walking meetings – that is an easy one! Even SVPs and CXOs from fortune 500s started to train for their first Ironman while being in that position. How: well – some of them printed powerpoints on index-cards allowing them to follow conference-calls while pedaling 180km on their bike. When speaking with these people I realized one thing: You need to have a desire! The desire to do things that matter.  The desire to do things differently. The desire to change things when you recognize that the strategy that got you here might not be the one which will get you there. The desire to become an agile leader – ready to deal with the professional and personal challenges of fragile, connected and dynamic environment. Just to make my point here: those people started one of the most time intense training routines while they have been in their most demanding positions (both professionally and personally with young families). The message is clear: if you have a desire to stop unproductive behaviors you will find ways to improve the rhythm oft he business – for own and others’ benefits and better outcomes

Oh … one last thought: finally your wearable gets back some meaning after the first weeks of euphoria (btw: more than 50% of wearables are not getting worn after a couple of weeks) … – because you can use it to measure your meeting agility and healthniess.

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