Meetings are useful.
Meetings are also a huge waste of time.
Useful for people who don’t work much, because meetings enable them to ‘show their busyness’. For many, participating in meetings is the equivalent of walking around carrying a bunch of papers. They appear busy while in reality, they’re doing nothing.
But people who enjoy being productive and doing focused work dread meetings more than taking a day off.
Meetings are the biggest wastes of time, money and attention, according to Jason Fried. Also, they are
“an addictive, highly self indulgent activity that corporations and other organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate.”
Not my words. These are words of Pulitzer Prize-winning American humorist Dave Barry.
Alright, let’s get down to the calculations and specifics.
How Meetings Waste Resources
There’s no such thing as a one-hour meeting – Jason Fried
A one-hour meeting is never really just that. It’s the number of people attending, multiplied by the time spent by each person in the meeting. So a 1-hour meeting attended by 6 people is a 6-hour meeting.
Even a 30-minute meeting attended by 10 people is a 5-hour meeting.
Multiply this by the number of meetings held in an organization each day. If a company loses over 100 manhours each week, imagine what it could achieve with those 5200 additional man-hours in a year!
Add attention diverted (considering it takes up to 23 minutes to refocus on our tasks after being distracted), and expenses escalate further.
“How would you feel if you had to regularly spend $1200 so you could ‘tell a few teammates something’,” Fried asks. This obsession with meetings compromises productive time lost for employees. No wonder many people believe that they cannot get work done at work.
Few organizations can function without meetings. As much as we hate them, we need them. Utilized effectively, meetings can improve communication, help us adhere to deadlines and make organizations more productive.
So how can you use meetings to make yourself and your organization 10x more productive?
Steal From Apple and Amazon
Steal anything from Amazon or Apple and you’ll be slapped with infringements and lawsuits faster than people get distracted. But you can steal their best practices for meetings.
The best part? They can’t do a damn thing.
Here are 4 amazing, yet easy-to-use, practices which Jobs and Bezos implemented, and which you can follow too:
1. Keep ‘Em Lean
Steve Jobs was about to start a weekly meeting with Apple’s ad agency when he spotted someone new in the room.
“Who are you?” he asked, pointing at Lorrie. Calmly, she explained that she was asked to join the meeting because she was part of related marketing projects.
Jobs heard her out and then politely said, “I don’t think we need you in this meeting, Lorrie. Thanks.”
Keep your meetings as lean as possible. Involve few people, so that you can keep them short and reach resolutions quickly. Too many cooks spoil the broth.
The next logical question is, how does one know who to involve in meetings.
2. Invite Responsible People
‘Responsible’ means capable and trustworthy. But here, it means more.
Fortune Magazine columnist Adam Lashinsky shed light on one of Apple’s corporate innovations – The Directly Responsible Individual (DRI).
There was never a confusion [at Apple] about who was responsible for what, Lashinsky explained. Often, the DRI’s name would appear on the agenda for a meeting, so that everyone knew who was responsible. “Any effective meeting at Apple will have an action list,” a former employee said. “Next to each action item will be the DRI.” A common phrase heard around Apple when someone was trying to connect with the right contact on a project was “Who’s the DRI on that?”
When Gloria Lin moved from Apple to Flipboard, she carried DRI with her. The process is hugely effective, she explained. “When you feel like something is your baby, then you really, really care about how it’s doing.”.
Include only DRIs in a meeting. This keeps meetings lean and avoids time wastage. Others can invest their time to make the organization benefit constructively.
But don’t get started with a meeting just yet.
3. Define An Agenda
Most meetings fall flat on their face due to the lack of a well-defined agenda. “Meetings should only be held to make decisions about a predefined situation, not to define the problem,” Tim Ferriss wrote in The 4 Hour Work Week.
To keep meetings short and productive, send invitees an email that defines the purpose in advance. The purpose should be to achieve a resolution, not define a problem.
The agenda-defining e-mail forces people to explain the desired outcome with specificity. Nine times out of ten, Ferriss explains, people can answer the agenda over e-mail. Imagine how much saving of valuable resources such an activity saves.
But if you must organize a meeting, ensure that stakeholders don’t hide behind a PowerPoint.
4. No PowerPoint
Steve Jobs hated PowerPoint slides. So does Jeff Bezos. PowerPoint is easy for the presenter but lets the audience get distracted once they lose interest.
Instead, Amazon staff meetings start with 30 minutes of silently reading a 6-page memo drafted by the presenter. On a traditional presentation, attendees interrupt. But when they read the whole memo, the question they might have on page 2 will mostly get answered in the coming pages.
This serves 3 purposes:
- It makes the presenter puts forth her ideas clearly. Writing 6 pages forces a presenter to consider various aspects and offer a clear, in-depth analysis.
- It gives the presenter the satisfaction of seeing her hard work being read.
- Glossophobia – the fear of public speaking – is not in the picture. Plus, the floor is open for quick and focused discussion, with little space for ambiguity.
You don’t have to implement all the points at once. Start small and build from there.
Soon enough, your team will communicate better. People will also use their time better, reach quicker resolutions, and be more effective.
These reasons are good enough to get you started on implementing the above suggestions, right?