It may sound like fantasy by it's not: You can immediately reduce your investment in meetings by 75 percent.
Here is why: Half of all meetings are not needed. Those meetings that are needed require only half the attendees. The meetings that take place with half the people could be completed in at least half the time.
If you were to add up the salary investment in employee time spent in meetings and then reduce it by 75 percent, what would your savings be? What if you redirected even half of this time to innovating new ways to offer value to your customers?
Companies and teams do not innovate in meetings. Meetings creep and expand like the roots of a bamboo plant. Before you know it they have taken over, locked themselves in, and are sucking life and energy from everything around them.
I used to work at the Rare games studio in England shortly after Microsoft acquired them for $375M to make games for Xbox. Founded by three brothers, the studio was made up of 250 artists, musicians, animators, and developers. There were no planned meetings at Rare; if a decision needed to be made, a handful of people would huddle, make the decision, and move on. Simple, fast, and effective. Though a little unnerving at first, this was incredibly freeing for me. My calendar was empty and I could focus on doing work rather than talking about it.
While this may be an extreme that many can only dream about, you do have more control over your time than you think. I have sat in thousands of meetings; some have been effective and inspiring and others have compelled me to run from the building screaming. All have worked together to teach me these six lessons about the best ways to manage your meetings:
1. Create Clear Instructions
Just like board games require clear instructions to know how to play them, meetings require parameters too. Often when faced with meeting executives, employees are unsure how to behave: Can I disagree? Should I interrupt? Do your team a favor and let people know what to expect and what is acceptable beforehand; this information is especially helpful when new people join your team.
2. Share the Point
Make it clear what decisions need to be made and who will make the final call. Most meetings consist of information sharing, which is a waste of time and can usually be accomplished outside of a meeting. Be clear on the point of every meeting. If there isn't one, cancel it.
3. Don't Send Ego Invites
As you plan a meeting, don't just select based on hierarchy. Be sure to invite your best designer, technical expert, or customer advocate to make sure all of the right voices are heard. Ego invites don't help.
4. Get on the Same Page
Amazon starts every meeting with reading a written document they call a narrative. It is not sent out ahead of time, so everyone literally gets on the same page at the start of the meeting by reading in silence. Then the discussion begins page by page, questioning data, assumptions, and results. This allows everyone to participate. Even when Jeff Bezos is present, everyone in the room asks questions and makes suggestions. This avoids a derailing conversation on slide 2 of a PowerPoint presentation. Can you start your meetings with quiet reading?
5. Mind Your Furniture
Pixar used to have an oval table in their main conference room, and over time everyone knew that Ed Catmull and the other Pixar executives sat in the middle of the oval and the more junior people sat at the ends. There were even cheap seats in a second tier around the edge of the table where people sat to observe but rarely participate. Over time, the dynamic of the conversation focused solely on the center of the table in a powerful inner circle, until one day Ed realized that the table was the greatest barrier to everyone participating. The table went out with the trash. How does your meeting room layout affect who participates?
6. Reboot Your Meetings
As fast companies grow, it is easy to get stuck in old ways of making decisions, so regularly press reboot on any reoccurring meetings and free up time. Peter Deng, head of product for Instagram, did this when he first joined the company. He cancelled every existing meeting and replaced them all with just one 30-minute meeting for rapid-fire removal of roadblocks.
Take a look at your calendar for next week. Which meetings could you cancel, decline, or reduce the number of attendees for? Redirect some of that time toward customer-focused innovation and your customers and employees will all be thanking you. You can learn more about creating silence, space, and time in my new book, Thoughtfully Ruthless: The Key to Exponential Growth, Wiley, April 2016.