Almost everyone I know is inundated in meetings. Is that true of your workday as well? When I ask a client to tell me what is on their calendar, usually, it’s a litany of meetings among unclaimed time slots.
For most founders, start-up leaders and other company executives, their day revolves around meetings. In some organizations, their default way to do absolutely anything is to call a meeting.
So Many Meetings
According to research done at MIT, executives have up to 23 meetings a week. Those in larger companies may have even more.
In some of my own client companies, employees can spend upwards of 30 hours a week in meetings. When you extrapolate from the number of meetings, with preparation, context-shifting, log-on and off time, that can add up to 40 hours – the whole work week!
In the chart below I’ve done the math for the typical range of time investment demanded by meeting. You can do your own calculations by adding your numbers to the black column. It will likely surprise you.
Given this reality, one might reasonably assume that meetings are extremely important. Not only are they important, but given the mission of each organization, they must produce extraordinary value for everyone in them –and for the organization. Is that true?
To find out, we need to look at the components of value creation, and compare it to the output of meetings. What are the pieces of activity and outcomes that create value and whence do they come?
If you are a product manager, you deliver a roadmap. That takes focused collaboration (meetings), but also significant time drafting, creating, tweaking, and thinking.
If you are an engineer you contribute the working code, whether in the form of a product or in support of another function of the business. That takes thinking, coding, and debugging.
If you are the sales engineer, you deliver significant product knowledge to support sales. To do that you must study, troubleshoot, meet with engineers, and attend some sales pitches.
I could go on. Better yet, you could do the same analysis for your team or organization. With this knowledge we can assess the value of the meetings we have. Many meetings are unique, and you can analyze those. But consider one pro forma meeting that occurs across organizations:
The Weekly Sales meeting.
Whether run by the VP of sales, or the lead salesperson, the structure is usually the same. Review the pipeline by going around the table asking each individual contributor (IC): What’s in your pipeline? How is each prospect doing (one by one)? Have you moved the needle? Are you blocked? Do you need help? What is their probability of signing a contract?”
But, before that meeting happens, the person in charge likely goes to the CRM, exports that pipeline report, and knows the answer to every question on the agenda.
ICs have also made notes about how each conversation went and what objections have been raised – all memorialized in the CRM. That information is in-hand.
Yet, we still have a meeting. Is that really the best way to support the sales team in producing results? Does taking an hour and reviewing the pipeline add to the selling success?
Perhaps. And perhaps not. The entire sales team, and often others outside of it, spend an hour or more on this review every week. For any one of my clients that can be up to 9 people on a Zoom call. If it takes an hour, that’s at least 9 collective hours of employee time (not counting prep, context-shifting, etc.).
Does it net more than 9 hours of value for the organization – as compared to other activities the participants could perform? No sales get closed during the meeting, so no revenue is created. For those ICs who are NOT blocked, the coaching for those who are stuck may have nominal value. But is it more useful than being on the phone or prospecting for new customers or doing an initial pitch?
The key point here is not about the meeting per se. It’s about what the meetings are displacing.
What is the opportunity cost of your meetings? (share this on Twitter)
What could those executives or engineers be doing if they were in fewer meetings and had more unscheduled time? Would that hew to the company’s benefit or are the meetings a better use of time?
I’m not saying that meetings should be eradicated. But many of them are unnecessary.
Maybe there’s a better approach. Could the sales leader above generate the same value asynchronously, without everyone present? By using the CRM to generate the report, she can assess the pipeline. She could send a group email reflecting on it and asking for requests from those who are blocked. Those calls could be individual, salvaging up to 8 hours for other work. It amounts to “found value”.
Maybe the full sales meeting could be monthly instead of weekly with the rest happening asynchronously. Asynchronous work allows people to respond in between work sessions. That’s often more efficient.
How many meetings are weekly check-ins? I hear of leadership meetings, daily standups, project reviews, new customer reviews, product team meeting, sales team updates, one-on-ones with every direct report and more. And many of the meetings require attendance by people who aren’t directly involved
You get the idea.
Where are the blocks of time necessary for the deep work that move the organization forward?
But there is hope. Here are some ideas for how to start reducing the meetings in your organization.
- Undertake a meeting triage. Parse each meeting’s value. Figure out which can be eliminated, consolidated, or made less frequent? Are there on-on-ones that can be done as team meetings? While one-on-ones are critical –their frequency may not be? Many weekly meetings are connected to specific initiatives. Can you get rid of them or convert them to asynchrony?
- Make meetings shorter. Time pressure accelerates thinking and work. You default to an hour? Make it a half-hour. You may be surprised by the productivity.
- Consolidate meetings. For example, one of my clients has scheduled all his weekly meetings for Tuesdays. That reduces fragmentation of the working day and week. That benefits the team too.
- Block the days in your calendar when you plan to do the most critical deep work. For example, implement no meetings policies on Wednesday or Thursday afternoon. Ideally you do this company wide.
- Create Office Hours. Set aside a few hours a week for impromptu meetings, questions, or check-ins. If no one shows up, you can handle shallower work like responding to non-critical emails or outputting reports from data platforms.
I am on a crusade to reduce meetings– to expand the amount of unscheduled time.
People who are tasked with adding value need time to think, to create, to strategize. Join me in this crusade.
Give your team the time to produce the value you expect.