By Mattson Newell (@MattsonNewell), Client Partner for Partners in Leadership, and an expert and author on breakthrough communications, global human resources, and talent development
One of the greatest challenges people face today is meetings: unproductive meetings, meetings before meetings, meetings after meetings, and meetings to review what took place in a previous meeting. All this leads to meeting fatigue that wears down employee productivity and satisfaction.
Some leaders combat meeting fatigue by minimizing or canceling physical meetings. They assume that phone meetings are more efficient. But what happens? Suddenly, employee calendars fill up with 30-minute back-to-back phone calls, often during the most productive hours of an employee's day.
This leaves your team little time or energy to do the additional work that so often comes out of meetings. By the time they come up for air, their energy is sapped, the inbox is full, and you have a team of workers left staring at a list of to-dos trying to decide where to start.
As a leader, you have to help your team find a balance between meetings and solo work.
How can you conquer meeting fatigue and still produce topline results? Start by asking three questions.
1. Does This Meeting Help Us Achieve Our Key Results?
Early on, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos identified the unproductive cycle of meeting for meeting sake. As a result, he decided to only hold meetings when they are critical to moving the business forward. Otherwise, if a decision could be made or information communicated effectively through another channel, then a meeting wouldn't be calendared.
A critical way to evaluate the necessity of a meeting is to measure it against your organization's key results. Does the topic and agenda clearly tie back to what the organization is trying to achieve? Not a loose-dotted line to the results, but a clear, unobstructed impact to the bottom-line? If not, where are you asking everyone to spend their valuable time?
This was the whole thinking of Jack Welch's famous WorkOut system that he started at General Electric (GE). If they found people in the company spending time and effort on an initiative that did not impact GE's key results or help them deliver market leadership, they 1) worked it out of the system, 2) canceled any associated meetings, and 3) reinvested that time, effort, and resources on things that would impact the results.
As Welch said, "Trust the people in the organization - the people in the best position to improve a business are the people in the job every day."
2. Are the Right People in the Meeting?
You've likely been in meetings where no one seems to have the answers. Other attendees say, "Tom would know that," or "I'll follow-up with Tom to get the answer." Everyone leaves frustrated, thinking, "Why wasn't Tom invited to the meeting?"
There are other scenarios related to this same issue: you might be in a meeting wondering what you're doing there. You have nothing to contribute to the meeting. Or, what about Tom when he finds out a critical meeting took place without him?
If you don't have the right people in the meeting, don't hold the meeting. Otherwise, what happens is you spend time discussing and solving an issue that you'll then need to share with someone else to get up to speed. What's worse, you could even spend your time in a meeting where no action-items can be taken because a key decision maker is not present.
All this frustration can be avoided with thoughtful consideration of what stakeholders are absolutely necessary to move the conversation forward.
Use Bezos's simple formula to help you evaluate who needs to be in the meeting. He limits the size of meetings to what he calls the Two-Pizza Rule: If the size of the group in the meeting cannot be fed by two pizzas, there are too many people present.
3. Are We Prepared for This Meeting?
Many meetings are held prematurely. This results in people arriving to the meeting unprepared for the discussion, much less at the point where everyone can arrive at a well-informed decision by the end of the meeting.
Bezos combated this with the memo rule, ensuring that those presenting are prepared and those in attendance are prepared to have a valuable discussion.
In rare instances where a meeting will speed up team alignment or decision making at Amazon, Bezos is careful not to overwhelmed his team with PowerPoints, charts, and graphs.
"No PowerPoints are used inside of Amazon. Somebody for the meeting has prepared a six-page...narratively structured memo. It has real sentences, and topic sentences, and verbs, and nouns--it's not just bullet points."
Why does he do this?
"There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking," Bezos says.
Bezos dedicates the first 30 minutes of every meeting for people present to read the memo. "Just like high school kids, executives will bluff their way through the meeting, as if they've read the memo," says Bezos. "Because we're busy. And so, you've got to actually carve out the time for the memo to get read."
Before Your Next Meeting
Our time is valuable and the time we spend in meetings can either be a great asset or great detriment to the results we set out to achieve. The next time you prepare for a meeting, increase efficiency and communication by making sure to ask yourself these three questions beforehand - does the meeting help us achieve key results; are the right people in the room; and are we prepared for this meeting?
And always follow the two-pizza rule!