It was so nice to have time off during the 4th of July holiday to rest, relax, and refresh. It is a wonderful time to give thanks for our many opportunities and freedoms. It is also, frankly, nice to go for a few days without a meeting. Each day, workers in the United States attend about 11 million meetings. Managers spend 33% of their time in meetings and senior managers spend 50% of their time in meetings, according to the Muse. Yet over 67% of meetings are seen as unproductive. Meetings are of the people, and by the people, so let’s make them for the people. Let’s create a Meeting Bill of Rights based on the freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of petition.
Freedom of Assembly. We believe in the right to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue, and defend our collective or shared ideas. I think this is what meetings are actually supposed to do, but we aren’t doing it effectively. 92% of people admit to multi-tasking during a meeting, which causes the follow-up meeting to be scheduled because we didn’t make the required decisions. So let’s assemble more effectively. I encourage you to look at the meetings you are in, and ask yourself, “Do I really need to be at this meeting?” Perhaps this could be a developmental/exposure opportunity for someone else on your team. Allowing the person who actually owns the work to be in the meeting, talking about their work, is a great way to drive engagement – and efficiency. We can also assemble differently. Consider more short, frequent, and informal “standup” meetings. 10-minute daily stand ups allow associates to quickly share what they worked on the day before, what’s on their plate today, and quickly course correct if needed.
Freedom of Speech. We believe that we cannot abridge the freedom of speech. This does not, however, mean that we cannot abridge what we speak about. This starts with reviewing what you want to spend time talking about. What items actually need to be discussed? If it is something that can be read and understood in an email, take it offline and save time. What updates are important to the team? What should they know and do after the update? Making those things clear is critical to a good meeting. A new approach taken by our executive team is including Let’s Debate time in meetings. This is dedicated time to wrestle with a topic we are not aligned on. To be effective, it can’t be the last 5 minutes of the meeting, and the norms have to be clear that everyone is expected to speak in the meeting and walk out supporting the decision. Creating time and permission for healthy debate is the best kind of meeting and encourages free speech in all forums.
Freedom of Petition. We believe in the right for a redress of grievances. This right allows for the petition of grievances without fear of retaliation for speaking up. Let’s create a meeting militia to help manage the top three meeting grievances. #1 – Meetings lack of focus. Agendas are such a simple but critical step in holding an effective meeting. Agendas should be sent out in advance with any materials that will be discussed in the meeting. This allows for all learning styles to participate and helps the meeting owner have more productive conversations and move to quicker decisions. #2 – Meetings are too long. Parkinson’s law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” The same is true of meetings. Cut every meeting on your calendar by 50% – either in length or in frequency then ask the team what impact that has had. #3 Meeting preparation is too complex. People spend 10% of their time preparing for meetings. We need to move to a place where we are more focused on the content than the cosmetics of the presentation and allow people to spend their time doing, discussing, and debating.
I have set a goal to “only” be in 20 hours of meetings a week. When I say that to my kids, they think that is crazy. When I say that to my co-workers they think that’s unlikely. But I believe it is necessary. More than $37 billion is spent on unproductive meetings. We the people – and stockholders – deserve better than that. Let’s work together to create a more perfect meeting, based on a Bill of Rights, ensuring the freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of petition.