Meetings are the killer of modern work life. Fortunately there is a better way. We should only meet twice a year and really get to the bottom of things – and then let the specialists take care of the rest.
Several years ago, I visited a Danish company who wanted to eliminate the insane amount of time they wasted for meetings – a pain point that many other organizations experience. Already, they created some strong points of view around better time management and prominently displayed advice through posters on meeting room walls. These were all standard best practices: start on time, prepare an agenda and follow it, stop discussions when they are not leading somewhere, make sure you agree on your conclusions, etc.
Unfortunately, good advice is not always followed and the campaign didn’t work very well..
From there, the company decided to take a completely different approach. Executive management dropped half of their meetings. This empowered senior management to make more decisions rather than push them upstream. However, the responsibility of evaluating and making more business decisions equates to additional work time. With the need to spend more time on work, senior managers found themselves needing to spend less time on meetings as well. Over time, other employees found themselves with the added responsibility of making business decisions as well, so that senior and executive management were provided with solutions rather than additional problems.
This domino effect carried on all the way through to the lower levels of the organization. Decisions were still made, only more efficiently and more locally. People felt more ownership of business decisions, and took greater care to take more informed action even at ‘lower’ levels in the organization.
With fewer meetings, productivity began to rise.
Meetings are a waste of time.
In a 2012 IndustryWeek survey, 2000 managers reported that at least 30 percent of time spent in meetings was a waste of time. Think about the time you spend during meetings. How much of that time is spent setting up, making introductions, dealing with technical issues or waiting on information that is not yet ready? This time could instead be used making actual decisions that affect and drive business.
Meetings are bad for information sharing.
Status update meetings don’t actually help get work done. A Clarizen/Harris Interactive survey done in 2012 showed that 67 percent of participants reported spending up to four hours per week to get ready for a status update meeting – not including the time spent to have something on which to actually provide an update.
Meetings may lead to bad decisions:
Our brains only have a limited amount of cognitive – or “executive”- resources. Once these resources get depleted, the likelihood of making bad decisions or choices increases. If some of members in the meeting are not mentally peaking, the larger group is at a disadvantage. Even worse, if meetings last too long, the entire group runs the risk of depleted resources, leading to greater likelihood of poor decision-making. This means that three or four hour project meetings are inherently counterproductive.
Use Meetings to Get to the Bottom of Things
So should we just quit meetings altogether? No…but we should use them for something more productive than how we use them today. Take advantage of technology instead of to share status updates or make decisions. Innovation doesn’t require an assembly.
Instead, use meetings for in-depth discussions that go beyond simple planning. Face-to-face meetings encourage maximum bandwidth between people: we see the facial expressions, we get inspired and we form stronger bonds.
Only in meetings can we manage to get into real dialogue and embrace differences of opinions on the core part of our businesses that really matter. Here we must find common ground on the few important things that really matters: Where are we going? What are the main obstacles? Do we have the bonds that make us trust each other to help all of us get there?
But we only need these kinds of meeting a few times a year. Once the big picture and the strong bonds between the members of the group are in place, the rest should be left to smaller teams and specialists. If we start in alignment on purposes and goals, people should be entrusted and empowered to make the right decisions for the entire team. We can innovate and inform each other using online tools and technology – making business more effective and productive – encouraging a modern workplace.
And at this company that I visited several years ago, this is exactly what is now happening. We should all do the same!