Last week the New York Times ran an op-ed titled “When You’ve Had One Meeting Too Many,” and to no one’s surprise, the article shot straight to the top of the most-read and most-emailed list. Carson Tate, who runs a management consulting firm, wrote the piece after working with one too many senior leaders whose days are so crammed with back-to-back meetings and conference calls, that their direct reports follow them into the restrooms, and catch up on business tasks while speaking through the stall.
Data show that the higher an employee’s rank, the worse the situation becomes; many top executives literally spend all of their work hours in meetings, and complete private tasks like business research, reading and writing reports, or answering emails at home, on lunch breaks, or en route between engagements.
Tate argues that the meeting-crazed culture dominating corporate America has become 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. But how often do we think about our time that way, and set expectations for meetings to produce real returns? In my experience working with Fortune 500 companies, the answer is rarely. This is just one result of a meeting-intensive culture.”
Many workers are now calling for a “meeting revolution,” as evidenced by the outpouring of responses to Tate’s NYT column (it was one of the most commented-on articles in well over a year). Several helpful suggestions have come out of the conversation, and many are now being adopted at the Department of Labor and Industries: instead of automatically accepting your next meeting request, stop for a moment and evaluate your return on investment. Will that meeting actually advance your goals? Does the purpose of the meeting actually line up with the company’s strategic priorities? Is attending that meeting right now the best use of your time? Tate’s recommendation is that “If not, revolt — by declining the meeting request.”
If you absolutely must attend the meeting, consider ways to streamline it. Tate writes that his company’s website developer “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 additional strategies for shortening or eliminating meetings, recommended by Tate and by our Seattle Employment Attorneys. Some of Tate’s most popular are listed here:
- Can the topic be covered in a different format, like e-mail or instant messaging?
- Consider investing in technology that enables colleagues to share documents on their computer desktops 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. Will this conversation lead us toward one of those outcomes? If not, we can correct our course immediately.
- By telling participants in advance about the big picture, you keep the meeting on track toward its stated goals — and keep employees focused on the topic at hand. Including the desired outcomes helps everyone prepare for the meeting in ways that work best for them.
A meeting revolution will create a new business climate, helping free up worker time for more productive and enjoyable tasks, while supporting employers by creating a more efficient workplace. Everyone will cheer for fewer meetings. And, those meetings that “survive” the revolution will become shorter and more focused, creating a direct and measurable return on investment.
If you have suffered from a workers compensation injury and need help with your claim, the attorneys of Emery Reddy can help you through the L&I claim process and get you the maximum benefits allowed under Washington law. Many workers also turn to us for experienced legal representation when they face a denied L&I claim, are injured by a third party, or receive instructions from the Department of Labor and Industries to schedule an Independent Medical Examination. Call our L&I Attorneys today for a free consultation.