One of the most common barriers to day-to-day agility that people cite to me is excessive time in meetings. A survey by work management software business Workfront (via NOBL) found that more than half of employees they surveyed regarded wasteful meetings as the greatest barrier to work productivity.
We’ve all been there. The trouble with meetings, as we know, comes not only from the reality that there’s just too many of them, but also that they are often over-populated with people who don’t really need to be there, or whose required contribution is minimal, and that they expand to fill the time allotted even if they don’t need to. Paul Graham (Y-combinator founder) once described the difference between a ‘maker’s schedule’ and a ‘manager’s schedule’. Whereas makers (writers, do-ers, creatives, programmers) prefer to use time in units of at least half a day in order to actually create something meaningful, managers typically segment time into one-hour slots. For the latter, a meeting is simply a matter of finding an open slot, but for those operating on a maker’s schedule meetings can be a disaster, since one meeting can blow the whole afternoon by breaking it up into chunks too small to do anything truly productive with. I’d argue that they can be disruptive to anyone trying to take a long run at getting something done. For the same reason that it’s more productive to compartmentalise specific time for email rather than dipping in and out throughout the day, it’s the context switching, as well as the time it takes to have the meeting, that is costly.
And yet meetings are a necessary part of how we move work forwards, so what to do? In the book, we talk about changing the defaults (particularly time defaults) as a way of giving greater respect to people’s time, and removing unnecessary barriers to productivity and moving fast. The guys at NOBL make a good point in saying that most teams need fewer, but better meetings so the trick is to establish shorter, regularly scheduled meetings that have a specific function and focus and that result in clear outputs or next steps. Building this into the fabric of how your teams work and establishing an effective rhythm to the meeting schedule helps mitigate unnecessary time suck. Handily, they’ve produced a nice e-book on ‘Team Tempo’ that looks at the type of meetings that are really required, how often they should be held and how to make them more efficient. Nicely done.