I was so jealous of my first boss.
I wasn’t jealous of his title, his office, or even his pay…
No, the source of my envy was his calendar: a day packed, back-to-back, with meetings.
Sitting in my lonely cubicle, I longed for a chance to leave my desk and join the senior leaders of the organization in what I assumed were dynamic, engaging and lively discussions about the most critical strategic decisions facing the firm.
Ah, how naïve I was…
Today I know better.
As I moved up the corporate ladder and started receiving the meeting invitations I longed for, I came to quickly realize that most meetings rarely generate value that exceeds the cost of pulling many busy executives away from other, higher-value activities.
In fact, a Harvard Business Review study found that 71% of senior business leaders find meetings “unproductive” and “inefficient.” 62% said that meetings come at the expense of “deep thinking” and other higher-value work.
Needless to say, I no longer envy people with a calendar full of meetings. In fact, I worry about them and, if you are leader in your organization, you should to.
Meeting “madness” is a problem – and it’s up to us to solve it.
The “Meeting Hero”
Gordon Smith is the COO and Co-President of JPMorgan Chase who has earned the informal title “Meeting Hero” for his work to simplify and streamline meetings across the company.
“Meetings are something that everyone goes through, and everyone makes fun of,” says Smith. “So I said ‘how about we fix it?’ A meeting [should be] a place to actually do work. Where there is a real outcome. ”
In a recent interview, Smith shared four simple rules to transform the value and effectiveness of meetings:
Rule 1: Before You Schedule, Ask: “Does This Meeting Make Sense?”
According to Smith, “meeting for the sake of meeting,” should be a thing of the past.
Today executives spend, on average, over 22 hours per week in meetings — up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s.
That’s a lot of time wasted if the meeting isn’t of value.
Solution: Try breaking the habit and cancel meetings that aren’t necessary. And when meetings are required, reduce both the frequency and the duration.
Most meetings are scheduled according to the default settings on your Outlook or Gmail calendar system – 30 or 60 minutes. Smith believes that’s too long.
“I make sure that my meetings are scheduled in 15-minute increments. You can get through an awful lot more if you schedule a little tighter.”
Rule 2: Start And End On Time
How many times have you spent the first part of a meeting waiting for colleagues to arrive?
We’ve all been there. In fact, sometimes we’re the one running late.
Solution: No matter who is running late…start the meeting without them and finish on time.
Says Smith, “Thousands of hours are wasted by people just waiting for stuff to start.”
One simple strategy to help make this happen is to assign a timekeeper in every meeting. He or she is responsible for providing four updates:
- “It’s time to start”
- “We’re 15 minutes in”
- “We have 15 minutes left”
- “The meeting ends in 5 minutes, what are the next steps?”
Rule 3: Keep The Guest List Short
In order to have an impactful and productive meeting, you must have the right people in the room.
Too often however, we expand the guest list – often with a well-intended desire to improve transparency, alignment and communication – to include non-essential staff.
According to Smith, this is a mistake.
“20, 30, 40 people…that’s a conference, not a meeting.”
Having more people in a room can make it difficult to come up with tangible plans and solutions. We end up talking over each other or, worse, simply tuning out entirely.
Solution: If someone doesn’t need to be there, let them get on with their work. It will be far more productive all-around. Create a culture where it’s acceptable to not attend a meeting.
Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos takes this a step further with his “Two Pizza” Rule: Amazon tries to create teams that are no larger than can be fed by two pizzas.”
Rule 4: Show Up Prepared
How many times have you been to a meeting where you or someone else has no idea what it’s about or why they’re there?
I know that I have.
Often the first five-to-ten minutes of the meeting is defined by people sifting through their notes, or trying to find that relevant email.
This is all time wasted and isn’t fair on the other attendees who have done their homework.
Solution: Require that people show up prepared – having reviewed materials beforehand and generated questions and ideas to share.
This is Smith’s standard at JP MorganChase. “When people show up, they’ve read the material, they have their questions and it’s a disciplined and thoughtful point of view.”
Revolutionize Your Business Meetings
Meetings don’t have to be an energy drain on your business.
Follow these four simple rules and, like Smith, you can revolutionize the way your team connects, creates and makes decisions.
Implementing these changes may take a little courage on your part, but that’s why your organization needs a meeting “hero.”
That said, once your colleagues see how these enhancements save them time, energy and money don’t be surprised if they chip in to buy you a cape.