Kill the Meetings

After coming off a 6-month sabbatical from Apple, I returned to work at about 5:30 am, cleared my inbox by 8 a.m. (hey, it was 1994 – this was still humanly possible, back then). By 8:30, I was sitting bright and cheery in the conference room for the regular weekly kickoff meeting that our work team used to sync all our projects. As delighted as I was to be back, I was sure I was going to be behind.

About 30 minutes into the meeting, I was a little flush, and perhaps sickly looking because as I excused myself from the meeting, everyone turned to ask me, “what’s wrong?”.  And I didn’t know how to explain to them that they were having the exact conversation they were having when I had left the building 6 months earlier. And by exact, I mean to say the same argument almost to the same sequence of words, said by the same people. Nothing had changed, but more meetings had surely taken place. I wanted to barf on their shoes right there in that room, so sick did this realization make me.

So I’m not the first to hate meetings, nor the last. Books are written on how to make meetings better, and excellent blog posts talk about how to make them more effective.

But meetings continue — long in duration and short in value. Maybe it won’t surprise you then that when Cameron Herold answered my question about how all companies could be more entrepreneurial, he shared this nugget of wisdom:

Get everyone in the company booking ALL meetings for 50% of the time they first think to book it for. And challenge them ongoing by asking if meetings couldn’t be done in half the time going forward.  i.e. if people book meetings for 2 hours, get them to book them for 1 hour instead.  Shorten ALL standing meetings by 50%.  Cut all meetings everyone currently has booked in their calendar for all attendees by 50%.

Cameron did a great TED talk on raising kids to be entrepreneurs , and is the author of the book, Double Double – about how to grow the performance of companies. And his solution seems to hold a practical truth. Every team spends way, way too much time coordinating activities and talking about things they could read more efficiently. EVERY team could use a dose or two of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurial teams tend to think faster, pivot faster, do more with less, abhor bureaucracy, and get everything done for a fraction of the price that big companies do. They need to. If not, they die, or are acquired. But it’s also a LOT more fun working in entrepreneurial environments, because more stuff gets done, by less people, faster. They allow people to do great work rather than spend time talking with each other about how one day, they’ll do great work. It’s less talk, and more action.

So what if we could each bring this little tidbit of wisdom to our work cultures —  would you?

I’d love to start a dialogue on ways each of us could execute this solution, and will offer to send 1 of you (randomly chosen picked end of day, Sunday the 27th) a copy of Cameron’s latest book…What would you be able to create/build/do if you weren’t sitting in a meeting? How might you apply Cameron’s idea where you work? How might it affect the overall culture of innovation?

7 Replies

  1. Great post, Nilofer.

    Many years ago, before law school, I worked for a commercial bank that could afford to be overstaffed and, well, lazy about things. Which is to say that most of everyone’s time was spent in meetings, including mine, so I know a lot about them.

    One thing that comes to mind: It would be useful for people and groups to collect some data on actual projects/products completed and resources (time/people) spent on/in meetings relating to those projects/products. How cool would it be, for example, to see a product (e.g. a version of some software) created from efforts involving NO MEETINGS. That could be compared with similar products created from efforts involving LOTS OF MEETINGS. With enough data like that, collected over time, it might be possible to substantiate, once and for all, what many of us believe, i.e. that meetings just aren’t necessary to create good things.

    Of course, the people and groups involved would have to keep good records of what things they did to stay connected and moving forward, in place of meetings, so we could replicate their efforts, if, in fact, their results are successful.

    As I think of it, an organization could do something like this as a trial run, i.e. a mock project with no meetings, documenting everything, experimenting with new approaches, and writing everything down, just to see what happens. It would even be a cool thing to invite some interns in to do – I’m thinking a lot of business students would be interested in a no-meeting project experiment

    Just some ideas. Nice post. Look forward to reading more from you.


  2. Yes! Meeting conversations are like fish in aquariums. Take away existing constraints and they grow to fill the new ones. Squeeze them to the minimum. You can then make it possible for those who need to discuss something further to stay behind, while clearing the runway for those who don’t to move on to their priorities. Try to finish a 30 minute meeting in 15-20. Be judicious with people’s time and you can make work more productive and enjoyable.

  3. When I started my last job as executive director, I realized that we were spending more than 50 percent of our time in meetings, scattered throughout the work week–and we were not doing the actual work needed to move our organization forward.

    We implemented a practice where all meetings, conference calls, and other formal get-togethers could only be scheduled for two set days of the week: Mondays and Thursdays. This automatically created a work-week where we could set aside at last three days of productive, progressive work.

    The expectation, too, for these meetings was that everyone came prepared to share ideas on how to help a project move forward–not just gather information for information’s sake or to hear (passively) what tasks s/he was expected to complete.

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