Death to meetings

If we often classify meetings as boring and useless, to the point of hating them, why can’t we stop having meetings?

Paul Graham, an investor and essayist with vast experience in the computer industry, concluded that meetings have different costs for the two groups he distinguishes: those who thrive in meetings, the “managers,” and those whose meetings take away their creative, productive and focused time, the “creators” (in their experience, programmers).

 How does each of them face the workday? A boss, director or manager performs small and short tasks, usually, one after another. The nature of these tasks is organizational and communicative, and almost always involves other people. The work of the creator, on the other hand, requires great concentration and therefore many “continuous” hours to carry it out. Working in a context of two or three meetings per day is for the creator a direct attack on their productivity. 

Therefore, it is very necessary to bear in mind that meetings require the contribution of both profiles, and that the ways of working of each of them must be known and respected to take advantage of this valuable exchange time. However, the spirit with which we meet is close to discouragement. According to studies, 15% of an organization’s time is used (“spent”) in meetings, and about 11 million meetings are held every day in the United States, according to Fuze’s research. The percentage increases significantly in the highest ranks of companies, reaching 33% in CEO’S

“Aren’t you excited about having a whole day off to work, without any meetings?” Graham asks in his 2009 essay, “Creator’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.” And he describes his ideal meeting: “There are no more than four or five participants, and they know and trust each other. They quickly go through a list of open-ended questions while doing something else, like eating lunch. There are no introductions. No one is trying to impress anyone. Everyone is eager to leave and get back to work.” What do we do with the meetings?  Do we ban them? Are we replacing them with a collaborative platform of those that abound in the market?

 Turns out, there is too much value that can come from an in-person meeting. It is difficult to align wills in the long term without meetings. In a valuable meeting, the information “channel” should be like a river, we all pour information and take away its wealth. All other means of information exchange are poor in relation to an effective meeting. But it turns out that the key is in that fantasy: no one tries to impress anyone, the participants are few, they know and trust each other. And in that “anxiety to leave” prevails the need to cut unnecessary reporting, data without analysis, the mere factual account that often dominates team meetings and makes them repetitive and ineffective.

How many times do we hear the expression “reunionitis” ? That evil afflicts organizations that react to any circumstance by raising a meeting. Many meetings. Many unproductive meetings. There are some tips to avoid this situation: first, deciphering the reasons for the meeting. Are we Informing? Do we have to expose someone? Receive credit for my achievements? Then, understand our role in the meeting and its “price” regarding time and result.

Meetings are worth analyzing, just as we have proposed to review all aspects of life in the organization, in light of what makes an effective team, those discoveries of Google’s Project Aristotle:

Psychological Safety – “If I make a mistake in the team, it will not be used against me.” And in the context of meetings, I can trust that what you say “will not be used against me.”

Reliability – “When my teammates say they are going to do something, I can count on it to be so.”During the meeting we make commitments, do they just decorate the minutes and “drag” from meeting to meeting as “work in progress”? Or do agreed deadlines become tracked and performance-oriented tasks?

Structure and clarity – “The team’s decision-making process is effective.” The most important question takes us to the time “between meetings”. Are we making decisions during the meetings or between meetings?

Sense – “My piece of worj for the team makes sense to me.” Is my role in the meetings relevant? Or do I feel like “I’m in the wrong meeting”?

Impact – “I can visualize the relationship between the work that I carry out and the corporate objectives.” Is this meeting related to a specific project or task? Upon completion, will we have moved the project forward or is it merely a purposeless data exchange?

And what happens when we cannot respond positively to these questions? 

It is the symptom that the meetings are not effective, they do not summon the appropriate participants, they do not have the correct duration or frequency and ultimately, they do not consider the needs and characteristics of the people who participate in them. 

Because ultimately the meetings confront us with our colleagues and co-workers. 

And to continue focusing on the mechanics of meetings (the agenda, timekeeping, follow-up, agreements) is to divert the focus from the human nature of meetings and lose the richness of, precisely, the diversity that our roles offer us in the organization.