Have you started holding meetings in the office restroom?
I run a management consulting firm, and one of our clients found herself in that situation. As a senior leader in a large organization, she found that her days were filled with back-to-back meetings and conference calls. Because her direct reports were unlikely to find her at her desk for very long, they started following her into the restroom, file folders in hand, to get answers to their many questions.
Like my client, a majority of executives spend a significant percentage of their workdays in meetings. And the higher their rank, the worse the situation. Top executives bear the brunt of the burden, but our meeting-intensive culture affects employees at all levels. Just look around your office. Where is everybody?
The meeting culture that is dominating corporate America is unsustainable and unproductive. How many meetings did you attend last week that didn’t even have an agenda? How many resulted in a new idea? And at how many meetings did you think, “Why am I even here?"
Time is a commodity. And time spent in a meeting should generate a return on investment.
It’s time for a meeting revolution. Instead of automatically accepting that next meeting request, pause and consider your return on investment.
Will this meeting help you in achieving your goals? How does the purpose of the meeting align with the company’s strategic priorities? Is attending this meeting the best use of your time right now? If not, revolt — by declining the meeting request.
If there is no way to avoid attending a meeting, and it is scheduled to last an hour, challenge its length.
Our website developer, for example, schedules our project-update calls for 25 minutes. We complete all of our work in that time, then have five extra minutes to address any unscheduled concerns or to develop new ideas.
There are other ways to shorten meetings, or to eliminate the need for them. Can the topic be covered in a different format, like email or instant messaging? Consider technology that enables colleagues to share documents without actually holding a meeting.
For in-person meetings, consider requiring everyone to stand up. This is very effective, because leg fatigue soon sets in and everyone has an incentive to keep the meeting short.
By shortening a meeting, you automatically narrow its focus. At my company, we call this crunching the container — making it smaller. As a result, you eliminate some of the meeting “fluff," including all the unnecessary chatter that veers off topic.
As you narrow a meeting’s focus, it becomes much easier to concentrate on what you want as an outcome. On all of our meeting agendas, after listing the topic, we include bullet points detailing the desired results of the session. At any point, any participant can refer to those bullet points and see if we are still on track.
By telling participants in advance about the big picture, you keep the meeting on track toward its stated goals.
A meeting revolution will create a new corporate culture. First, of course, there will be fewer meetings. And, second, the meetings that remain will be shorter and more focused and will produce a clear return on investment.