I don’t know anyone who absolutely loves meetings.
I’ve never heard anyone ever say the phrase, “I don’t have enough meetings each week.”
I’ve never met anyone who felt more productive because they attended more meetings.
If anything, I’ve heard countless people say, “I was in meetings all day and didn’t get any ‘real’ work done.”
So what’s the solution to this meeting dilemma? It isn’t to stop having meetings. Some of them can be critical to the success of a project.
The answer is to have shorter meetings.
Or, rather, to meet like a sea captain.
I’m reading a novel right now called Red Seas Under Red Skies. It’s the second book in a new series by a guy named Scott Lynch. I didn’t expect to find a lesson that could apply to meetings at work within the pages of a nautical fantasy novel, but there it was. (When I say “fantasy,” I mean that in a Lord of the Rings kind of way, not a “Fabio with flowing pirate shirt” kind of way.)
Here is the passage I thought was so good, in which Lynch describes a meeting between sea captains:
“There was no wine, no food, and no sitting when the council of captains was called. Sitting only made people more inclined to waste time. Discomfort stripped sentiment from everyone’s words and brought them to the heart of their problems with haste.”
I love that, and it’s true. People will tuck into a long meeting like a long winter’s nap if you’re not careful.
Want better meetings? Keep them short and remove the chairs. When I worked at AutoTrader.com, there were some projects where we had a 15 minute “stand up” meeting each morning. It was exactly as you’d expect. We stood up. We discussed the key initiatives for the day. We returned to our desks in 15 minutes.
I’ve heard of other companies that use picnic tables in their conference rooms instead of cushy chairs. Eventually the hard picnic benches become uncomfortable and meetings wrap up.
Will this work for every meeting you have? Of course not. If you’re launching a 30 million dollar product, you’ll need some chairs to sit in. But it’s not those meetings that are the problem. How often are you having one of those? More often, it’s the 15-minute weekly meeting that grows into 30 minutes and, eventually, into an hour that eats up all your time.
Want to go short? Go no seats.
How many meetings do you attend each week?