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Transform your next team meeting

Using async pre-reads to align, prepare, and get more out of your time together

July 20, 2021

23 hours — that’s the amount of time senior managers spend in meetings each week, according to research from MIT.

Non-managers clock in around six hours a week (which the study cites as a conservative estimate.) Another study reports workers spend 21% of their work hours in meetings. Any way you look at it — it’s a lot of time.

We can all agree that back to back (to back to back to back…) meetings are exhausting. The solution, though, might not always be fewer meetings.

Async pre-readings help your team get on the same page before getting in the same room (or Zoom). They’re used by companies like Amazon (Jeff Bezos is a big champion of this concept) to get everyone aligned and fuel a more productive, engaging discussion.

Sure, cutting the hours your team spends in meetings in each is helpful (and we recommend doing it whenever you can). But when you can’t cut things — making your existing meetings more efficient can help them run shorter, feel more engaging, produce better results.

What causes inefficient meetings?

What makes meetings inefficient in the first place? Lack of preparation and feeling the need to cover everything in detail can make it feel like you’re churning through the same content every time. Here are a few other common reasons meetings can turn into a time-suck:

  • Lack of a clear, purposeful agenda
  • Lack of preparation — on part of the facilitator, attendees, or both
  • Trying to cram too many topics in
  • Spending too much time on topics that could be covered offline
  • Churning through repetitive topics and status updates

How to tell if your meetings are inefficient?

The following signals might point to problems with meeting efficiency:

  • People seem bored or checked out
  • Only a few folks are participating in the discussion
  • Things feel rushed– you rarely get through everything on the agenda and often have to punt important topics to the following week
  • You’re frequently derailed by side conversations, relevant to only a handful of folks
  • You’re regularly spending time “who’s working on what” or project status updates

Not only are inefficient meetings draining — they can also take a major toll on your team’s engagement, productivity, and overall well-being. Left unaddressed, they can lead to much bigger problems: exacerbating employee burnout, decreasing output, slowing progress on goals, and lowering overall team effectiveness.

Using async pre-reads to improve meeting efficiency

With the limited time teams have together, doing an async pre-reading exercise to prep can help maximize each minute. You’ll have time to cover everything on your agenda and get to dig into meaty topics and discussions that go well-beyond “who’s working on what”.

What’s a meeting pre-read?

It’s a jargon-y term, so let’s break it down into human language. An async pre-read is a written report or summary that meeting attendees are expected to read and digest before the meeting begins. It gives attendees context around big discussion topics so they can come prepared to actively contribute to the discussion. Some teams do the pre-read before the meeting. Others prefer to do it during the first few minutes of the meeting (like Amazon) to ensure everyone’s taken the time to do their homework and no one’s “faking it”.

Async pre-reads can be used for all types of meetings. Our team has found them especially useful for recurring meetings — like our weekly team meeting or sprint review meeting — because they help get the “who’s working on what” portion out of the way so we can focus on bigger discussion topics and collaboration.

Why use a meeting pre-read?

Using an asynchronous pre-read to prepare for your meeting has a number of benefits.

  • It builds alignment and helps with decision-making: Async pre-reads get everyone on the same page so it’s easier to make decisions when you come together, without having to muddle through 30 minutes of context and background info.
  • It levels the playing field: When everyone’s on the same page before the meeting starts, discussion can be more inclusive. Folks are more likely to speak up and participate when they know they have the same amount of information as everyone else in the room.
  • It encourages greater participation and engagement: Some people take more time to react to new information than others. Providing an async pre-read gives folks time to process discussion topics beforehand so they’re prepared to discuss in-person.  They’re also more likely to actively engage in the conversation and contribute ideas when they’ve had some time to actually think about them.
  • It cuts down on meeting time: By moving status updates into the pre-read and out of the meeting itself, you’ll be able to cut the length of your meeting or spend more time focusing on valuable discussion topics and collaboration.
  • It helps you make progress: With async pre-reads, you’ll actually make progress instead of just discussing the same things every time. You’ll leave meetings feeling a greater sense of accomplishment because you’ll have time for meaty discussion topics, collaboration, and decision-making.

How to incorporate a pre-read into your next team meeting

1. Give the team a lightweight way to share status updates beforehand

Remember, your pre-read should cover status updates and the “who’s working on what” piece so you can focus on bigger topics when you come together to meet. To get started, you’ll want to set up a process for the team to share regular status updates, which will inform discussion during your meeting and be summarized in the pre-read.

(Shameless plug: Check-ins work great for this.)

To collect all the right info from folks, we recommend using prompts — they make sharing a no-brainer and ensure you’ll have exactly what you need to stay informed and shape meaningful discussion.

For a weekly team meeting, your prompts might include:

  • Blocked: Are you blocked on something?
  • Discuss: What topics do you need to discuss with the team?
  • Weekly focus: What is your top priority this week?

It can also be helpful to set a schedule to remind folks to share their update and read the pre-read summary well in advance of the meeting.

Tip: Identify discussion topics for your meeting. If your team uses Check-ins, you can use #tags to surface common themes coming up in people’s work that might be good candidates for a big topic or deep dive during the weekly team meeting. You can use flags to identify blockers that might warrant discussion too.

2. Create an agenda that includes items from your pre-read summary

Having an agenda saves time and keeps the meeting on track.

We like using recurring agendas so you don’t have to start from scratch each week. At the top of each agenda, prioritize reviewing action items from last week and then digging into topics that were highlighted in the pre-read to get right to the meat of the discussion.

Tip: With the Range meeting tool, you can pull in blockers, flags, and other items from the pre-read summary to create your agenda in just a couple of clicks.

3. Take notes on what’s discussed so others can follow the conversation

When folks aren’t able to attend the meeting, notes are a great way to bring them up to speed.

A few best practices: be consistent with when you share notes, what level of detail you provide, and where folks can find and follow along with them after the fact. This will help you avoid having the same meetings or conversations over and over, since you’ll always have a source of truth to point folks to clue them in on past conversations.

Tip: Streamline note-taking (and sharing) with Range. With the Range meeting tool, you can take notes directly in the tool as you move through agenda topics (no need to open a separate doc) and then share them out automatically to attendees and stakeholders as soon as the meeting ends.

More progress, less churn

Your team is busy. With the limited time you have together each week, it’s important to make the most of it. If you’re regularly getting bogged down by low-stakes status updates – there’s an opportunity to do things more efficiently.

Using an async pre-read to align before the meeting helps fuel a more productive, engaging discussion. Summarizing status updates and flagging issues before the meeting begins gets everyone on the same page and empowers folks to actively engage in discussion.

With async pre-reads, you’ll spend more time making progress on your goals, less time rehashing the same updates each week.

Create a pre-read for your next meeting with Range
Transform your next team meeting
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