10 Things Jigsaw Puzzles Teach About Leading Better Meetings


You probably spend lots of hours in bad ones.

They drain time, morale and money.  It’s not just you.  A study by Bain & Company found that on average, senior executives spend more than two days a week in meetings.  In the United States,  over $25 million is wasted per day on useless meetings.  that just aren’t necessary. Each year, this results in $37 billion thrown away on meetings that simply aren’t productive.

Why do people meet?  To share information, clarify what makes sense, and find a solution.  A lot like what you do when solving a jigsaw puzzle.

Recently, I was was working with my family to complete a couple of jigsaw puzzles (300 and 1000 pieces).   I was struck how many lessons to solving the puzzles applied to leading meetings.   Here’s what I learned:

  1. Have the right numbers.  Too few pieces and you’re going to have some gaping holes.  Too many and you’re going to be really confused.

  2. Find the right space.  Make sure you’re working somewhere so you can focus.  Ideally, have good light and air, and eliminate unnecessary distractions.

  3. Don’t expect to do it all in one go.   Be realistic about what can get done when.  What you’re thinking  can get done in one sitting may be more like three.  Keep your session focused, and you’ll get more done in less time.

  4. Set the context. Don’t plow into minute details.  Establish the frame first, so everyone can orient to where the pieces fit together.

  5. Break the project down into smaller tasks.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the scope of everything.  Chunking things out makes it much more manageable.

  6. Have a clear process.  Where are you starting from?  Where are you planning to end up?  This helps you focus your work, and saves a lot of time and effort in the long run.

  7. Don’t get sucked into one thing for too long.  It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole and get lost.  Have your own internal time/value monitor:  if something’s not working, know when to put it down and move on.

  8. Ask for help.  There are times where a fresh set of eyes can see something you can’t.  Don’t be a superhero and try to figure everything out by yourself.

  9. Look for connections between elements.  Pieces don’t live in isolation.  Look for the inter-dependencies,  and find ways to link disparate parts together.

  10. Celebrate small wins.  Don’t wait until everything comes together to take satisfaction in your work.  Nothing motivates like seeing and naming progress.

What other best practices do you have for leading meetings?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.  

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