Why you should strive for fewer meetings
If your calendar looks like a game of Tetris, this post is for you
Most traditional organizations love meetings. And for the most part, I’m not sure why. A majority of meetings are exercises in futility where nothing truly productive gets done. In the classic TV show The Office meetings are used as an ongoing joke where branch manager Michael Scott calls them for every arbitrary reason he can conjure.
Sadly, this isn’t too far off from reality. Even if the subjects of meetings in the real world aren’t as comical, the actual levels of productivity are. Especially in an increasingly distributed/remote world, where wasteful meetings just compound stress even more than in-person. The solution to this problem is simple: have fewer meetings and make the ones you do have count.
The obvious reasons to have fewer meetings include the fact that they monopolize the time of your group and eat into hours where real productive work gets done. Everyone knows that. But meetings can actually be worse than that for reasons most don’t even consider.
Before I offer a few ways to make meetings more efficient, let’s run through some less-considered reasons to cut down on meetings in the first place:
Excessive meetings frustrate your A-list, ultra-productive employees
Meetings may be doing more harm than the surface issue of wasting your team’s time. As if that isn’t bad enough, meetings may actively be frustrating your A-list employees. This frustration harms their productivity and also causes them to look at leaders as the type who don’t really understand how serious they take their craft. Even worse, if your organization engages in frequent meetings without a real function, you may suffer attrition of your smartest team members. They may simply not want to waste their time listening to management teams talking to hear their own voice. The A-list wants to change things for the better, not sit around hearing speeches.
For a majority of decision-making, having meeting is absurd
To be competitive in digital, your team needs to be empowered and agile enough to make most decisions on their own after initial planning phases. If you can’t trust your team members to do this, it’s time to get a new team. If you’re low on the organizational hierarchy but know what you’re doing just start making decisions on your own – always ask forgiveness, not permission. The truth is any company worth working for rewards risk, even if you fail. Failure is always an option, and organizations who don’t embrace this for their marketing won’t have a prayer to compete digitally. If you have to have a meeting before making even tiny decisions – get out, now. There are better places to work.
Excessive meetings could make you appear like an aging organization
By having excessive meetings to get things done you’re telling a different story to investors, clients or partners vs. doing something like organizing the group in a project management system to structure the flow of work. Remember, all your actions define how your organization is perceived. For example, it’s so much more respectful of your team’s time to send a weekly status update email or Slack update the team can view on demand instead of forcing everyone to sit down to go through info that could have been skimmed via bullet points.
Never ending meetings may be a sign you have the wrong team
This isn’t really in the “reasons to stop having meetings category” but it’s something to think about. If you have to constantly meet with your team on issues you may have the wrong team. Especially if those meetings are constantly to train existing team members on things the rest of your team (and/or the rest of the industry) just gets. You should have a team that’s interested in keeping their skills razor sharp because they want to be top of their game. If you want to invest in your team and train them up on news skills, I’m all for it and think that’s a great idea, but get to that point quickly. Don’t continue to be stuck in never-ending meetings about things no one is able to solve.
Meetings, in many cases, spawn busy work
Due to the unproductive nature of meetings, many managers will feel a need to assign multiple tasks to team members during the meeting so they feel like something productive comes from the meeting. But these off the cuff tasks and ideas are usually not well fleshed out or thoughtfully considered. They are usually just busy work stemming from the fact that people aren’t meeting for a productive reason in the first place. This isn’t always the case but can be with the wrong management team.
A few solutions I recommend:
Foster an open, friction-free environment where team members can access each other if buy-in is necessary on something. No need to gather the whole team all the time, encourage the people who need to work together to do so without having to play telephone. Make your whole team accessible, even the higher-ups.
Ask forgiveness, not permission – most decisions can likely just be made on your own. If your team forces you to meet on every little thing, build up the necessary trust to get out of this. Good managers always appreciate team members who take initiative so long as they have a rationale for what they’ve done.
Make 1:1s walking meetings where possible and if remote, ensure video is always optional (I’ve no idea when people decided to make video the default, but we’ve been doing conference calls with decades just fine without them). Also, consider using your cell phone to do calls instead of Zoom so you are able to step away from your computer and walk the dog/get some fresh air.
Have a standing time already on the agenda daily or weekly where everyone gets a limited amount of time to discuss items they need to go through with the team. Hold team members to this time, no one gets to run over. If you’re still new to async work or you have a bunch of new team members finding their footing you might want to do this daily, but weekly is a much better cadence (for a well functioning team, there is likely no reason for a daily standing, new teams may be different of course).
Ensure all meetings have a clear agenda with specific items, and don’t add additional items to the agenda. Stay focused, accomplish what needs to be done, and move on. If someone doesn’t have an agenda that meeting should be postponed.
Have better QBRs. Your quarterly business reviews are the time to make plans for the quarter, brainstorm, update strategies, etc. You should come away from it with specific KPI goals, know the tactics you are going to execute and be empowered to go off and running to ship. QBRs are your chance for in-person for remote teams as well, this is the time everyone should fly in to the same place for several days of collaboration and in-person meetings. Make them count so at the conclusion everyone is clear on what’s next and doesn’t need to rehash the larger picture stuff again in video chat every week.
Don’t feel as if you have to use a full hour or half hour blocked off. If you schedule an hour meeting but finish in 40 minutes, give the rest of the team back 20 minutes of their day. Also don’t be afraid to schedule shorter meetings.
Use a project management system like Basecamp, Asana, or even simply a Google Sheet (works fine) to organize your team’s priorities and program status – you’d be surprised how much can get done in a good project management tool instead of both meetings, emails or slack messages.
Don’t bring excessive people to a meeting, it’s the equivalent of CC’ing a bunch of other team members on an email who don’t really have an action here. Your team’s time is valuable, treat it as such. If you count the hourly rate of 10 people in a recurring weekly for something the numbers add up fast. Also, never feel bad to leave a meeting where the subject matter isn’t relevant to you. Just quietly walk out of the room or shut your laptop. Majority of cases no one will even notice, because you weren’t participating anyway.
Setup a shared calendar and make sure everyone is using it and it’s up to date. This let’s you see just how much time your team is spending in meetings (plus stay organized). Work to cut down on excessive amounts of time any team member spends in meetings (unless they are on an account team for example and that’s their job).
Create a clear process for asynchronous work and what meeting culture at your company looks like. Set standards of where it’s appropriate to schedule a meeting or when it’s better to simply ping someone for help. Each team will be different here, but take the time to create a doc outlining your organization’s best practices and be sure it’s part of any new team member’s onboarding so they know how to run the show.
These are just a few thoughts off the top of my head, what are some of your solutions to reduce meetings?
To make meetings shorter and/or productive, everyone can submit their important updates to a Slack or email thread. Then everyone gets the basic info to read, and can dive into questions, etc. during the actual discussion. Over time it helps to bring to light which meetings are necessary and which can be replaced or made shorter.
love the analogy!