Imagine you're tasked with updating the team on an important work issue that needs their buy-in. You've prepped and now you start delivering on all the points they need to hear. Sixty seconds into your polished presentation, your boss cuts you off, holds up her hand and says, "Nope, we're not going to talk about that right now."

While that kind of abrupt interruption may look rude and unprofessional, it's an increasing trend enforced by high-powered execs demanding more efficiency in meetings. 

Enter the five-minute meeting.

More companies are now embracing "agile" meetings and daily check-ins to make their teams more productive and efficient. The hard rule? Keep it under five minutes or be ready to be rudely cut off in front of your peers.

While some argue this laser approach to meetings won't get anything accomplished, The Wall Street Journal recently published a story that convincingly declares otherwise.

Time is too precious to waste in high-demand business settings. The old ritual of booking conference rooms and clogging calendars with 30 or 60-minutes of drudgery is being replaced by five-minute huddles where teams cut to the chase and make decisions on the spot.

Aaron Shapiro, CEO of New York digital agency Huge Inc., forsakes meeting rooms for desk-side drive-bys when employees ask to meet with him. If they ramble on, he has no qualms about cutting them short by being what he calls "politely blunt."

Over at Scrum50, a Connecticut based digital marketing agency, morning meetings start and end in as little as four to six minutes. If you're late to work five minutes, you've missed it.  

At Fingerpaint Marketing, a New York marketing agency, if co-workers argue over a point or drone on beyond the allotted time, their head of operations, Jennifer McKenna, plays music queued on her laptop signaling that it's time to stop talking. Her song of choice: Nappy Roots's "Good Day." 

You now have 15 to 30 seconds to talk.

That kind of meeting efficiency also means your "air time" is drastically reduced to what seems like a ridiculous length. 

At Phoenix digital agency LaneTerralever, teams meet every morning for rapid-fire updates on dozens of projects. "People typically speak for 15 to 30 seconds at a time--or risk being cut off by meeting leaders," the WSJ reports.

Jamie Abbruscato, an account director, "spends five minutes before each meeting paring his customary three- to five-minute updates to 30 seconds," or he knows he's going to get the hand.

This poses a challenge. Professionals used to delivering presentations that play to their strengths are finding that the 15-30 seconds to "briefly explain mere seeds of ideas or works-in-progress" is a humbling experience. 

"Participants must learn to distill their ideas and requests to the conference-room equivalent of an elevator pitch," the WSJ reports. Scrum50's executive creative director, Jennifer Miller, admits that "you sort of need to check your ego at the door."

An argument against it.

On the surface, it appears that hard-nosed leaders who mandate for lightning-fast meetings are driving an intense and stressful culture of hyper-productivity. Is this a good thing for fostering good relationships at work? I'm not sure it is.

In personality typology research, people in demanding leadership roles are extremely motivated and naturally wired to get as much done as possible in a day. That's certainly a positive for moving the needle on productivity.

Where it gets problematic is on the people side of work, with opposing personalities in play. Competitive, take-charge leaders tend to communicate and move things along with extreme urgency (which means they expect others to communicate and move at lightning speed alongside them). 

Before you say crunching 30 minutes of meeting time down to 30 seconds in the name of efficiency is not a bad thing, consider the typical blind spots these hard-driving leader-types have that are detrimental to a healthy team atmosphere.

They can be too controlling or aggressive, and not sensitive to the needs of others, as evidenced by having no qualms about abruptly silencing the voices of their employees (whom may have something really good to say beyond 30 seconds).

They make decisions quickly, and can come across as critical and unsupportive of other people's ideas. (Not everyone can fully express a great idea in 15 seconds if they're afraid of being abruptly cut off by their boss)

Furthermore, because urgency is a 15 on a scale of 1 to 10, these bosses tend to have poor listening skills. They want to solve a problem without hearing all the facts. Their biggest fault, perhaps, is lacking a collaborative work style, because they're going through their day at warp speed, communicating in 30-second soundbites at the expense of people and relationships.

What they miss in their impatience is the opportunity to get to know their people as human beings and hear valuable input, ideas, and opinions on what's working and what's not.

Take Jason Schlossberg, managing director at Huge, who calls himself a talker. He tells WSJ that he once was making a point in a meeting when Shapiro, his CEO, cut in and told him to move on. "I had four more anecdotes to prove that point!" said Schlossberg.  Now, he says, "I choose my words more carefully."

Schlossberg's response to change the way he is naturally wired to talk appears to be motivated by fear of appeasing a dominant boss with a personality type that insists his people communicate and work to his style. This takes the assets of diversity and varied problem-solving approaches out of the equation. In the end, you adapt unwillingly, but you adapt; nobody wants to be shamed by his CEO in a meeting. 

What's really missing.

Toward the end of the WSJ story, Lyde Spann, chief executive of New York e-commerce​ company, Netamorphosis, admits the downside of this meeting strategy.

"An adverse effect of this kind of efficiency is that meetings used to be a time to connect. You'd ask people how their weekend was. You built relationships. We run the risk of missing that." 

To be fair, Spann says she compensates by scheduling time off on Fridays for socializing, and check-ins every 30 days for employees to talk about how they're feeling.

However, in this day and age where the best bosses on the planet clearly value relationships and respect their employees' time and voice, is that enough? What do you think?

Published on: Nov 9, 2017
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