What if meetings cost money?
Last year, after a lengthy discussion about ‘meeting culture’ at dinner with some friends, an idea emerged that I think has promise. It’s simple to explain, and I believe worth exploring for those who have long felt meetings are mostly an enormous waste of time. Meetings are, to put it crudely, perhaps the best way to misspend your time.
There are exceptions, for sure, but by and large I’d say 80% of the meetings I’ve attended throughout my career have been three times longer than they should be, wasted the majority of the attendees time or could have been better replaced as some kind of asynchronous communication — like an email or a wiki page, then sent out. But what can really be done about it? Everyone complains, but few long lasting solutions materialise that work.
How we tackle bad meetings today
The best remedies I have seen are novel cultural strategies to combat the problem. They mostly fall into five categories.
- Demand less meetings.
- Push for more asynchronous communication styles, which seems to over-index for a specific learning personality style and not for others.
- Hyper-productive meetings with agendas and documented purposes and outcomes.
- Time-boxing, the allocation of meetings into buckets or specific days, freeing up ‘focus time’ on the remainders.
- Or lie. And say you have somewhere else to be when you really don’t.
I’ve never seen these work in the long run for all staff.
Some individuals who set good boundaries appear to buck the trend, but making this culturally uniform seems to fail in those same organizations. Perhaps the meeting proliferation we all see has more to do with an unwillingness to say no, depending on who you are within the company, than it does with productivity. People find it easier to say no to meetings with their peers, or those that work under them, but not to those that outrank them. So saying no to a bad meeting is difficult.
The most effective (albeit, still mediocre) solution I have seen is to give people permission to leave a meeting if they don’t feel…