Why You Should Be A Meetings Hard-Ass
In a Harvard survey of 182 senior managers in a range of industries, 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. They don’t have to be.
I used to work for a company of a quarter-million people. The main campus was sprawling, and it was routine for people to gradually straggle into meetings. You only saw some colleagues occasionally, and there were often a few minutes of friendly chatter as attendees arrived. Many meetings got started 20 minutes or so late.
This was not true about the meetings organized by one project manager. Her meetings started exactly on time. There was always an agenda. And if you did not bring deliverables, she asked who your manager was and dropped them an email. I happen to know, from personal experience, that this was an effective tactic for ensuring work got done from then on.
“I really don’t like that kind of project management,” a famous project manager (profiled in a respected magazine) told me at a dinner party.
“Why not?” I asked.
“People do exactly what they are assigned and nothing more. It stifles innovation.”
I remain friends with both project managers. They are an angel of innovation and a devil of discipline on my shoulders. Somewhere in the middle, they hold a meeting.
I host a weekday meeting at my current company that is never more than 15 minutes long. It begins exactly on time, and follows a strict format. In those 15 minutes (or less) we often hear from eight to 10 people. The meetings are often quite informative.
A University of Amsterdam study of 20 organizations found that wandering off topic, complaining, and criticizing in meetings were associated with lower levels of market share, innovation, and employment stability. A University of North Carolina study showed that how workers feel about the effectiveness of meetings correlates with their general satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their jobs. And in a Harvard Business School study of 182 senior managers, 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
“Meetings do not have to be a trap; they can be a conduit for change,” authors of the Harvard study wrote.
A short meeting organized by discipline — not by team or department — can unify people in a way that cuts across an organization and cuts through bureaucracy. Attendees can become a tiger team that pounces on opportunity. If everyone in the meeting briefly checks in, no one can hide in the back.
I have rewarding interactions with the efficient project manager on social media. With energetic enthusiasm she reminds me of why we are friends.
I have run into the famous, innovation-prizing project manager several times in the past few years on the street. We had long, pleasant conversations. One of them made me late getting home. I have no memory of what we discussed.