Call Off the Meeting and Get Back to Work

meeting

Maybe you’re sitting in a boring meeting right now, peeking at this on your phone. Don’t Just sit there! Get up! Walk out. Join the anti-meeting revolution!

Andy Kessler explains: I hate meetings. Everybody does. Yet Nancy Koehn, who teaches at the Harvard Business School, estimates that there will be 11 million meetings taking place today in the United States. Yes, just today. Maybe you’re sitting in a boring one right now, peeking at this on your phone. Not much consolation to know that millions of others are stuck in the same conference-table-shaped circle of hell.

“A 2013 study by officebroker.com found that the average office worker spends 16 hours in meetings every week; government workers spend 22 hours a week in meetings.”

Meetings are supposed to be about discovery and buy-in. That’s it. Someone has decided that a group needs to be informed about some new idea or process or scheme, and by the end of the meeting everyone has supposedly bought into this new vision of the world—one that, if you’re lucky, didn’t come with a 50-slide PowerPoint deck. But meetings instead too often end up being about preening and politicking, and devolve into productivity-robbing, mind-numbing monotony.

“Meetings are supposed to be about discovery and buy-in…But meetings instead too often end up being about preening and politicking, and devolve into productivity-robbing, mind-numbing monotony.”

Given that the hours taken up by meetings increase when the profit motive is absent—a 2013 study by officebroker.com found that the average eat-peopleoffice worker spends 16 hours in meetings every week; government workers spend 22 hours a week in meetings—many companies have their own homeopathic cure for meeting madness.

[Check out Andy Kressler’s book “Eat People” at Amazon.com]

At Amazon, Jeff Bezos starts executive meetings with 30 minutes of silence and has everyone read a carefully crafted six-page report. That’s still a waste of 30 minutes. Some executives at Twitter and Apple set aside Mondays for meetings; the rest of the week is for full days of actual work. BuzzFeed President Jon Steinberg is more lenient; he sets aside Tuesdays and Thursdays as “no meeting” days. Someone I met who runs a music startup bans electronics, restricts meetings to a single topic—and limits them to 10 minutes.

“At Amazon, Jeff Bezos starts executive meetings with 30 minutes of silence and has everyone read a carefully crafted six-page report. That’s still a waste of 30 minutes.”

Here’s a trick I’ve seen a few Silicon Valley entrepreneurs employ at board meetings. When an investor or outside board member asks a stupid question, the CEO says “that’s a great question” and then gives the questioner an action item, something like: “OK, can you survey the competition and report back on their capital plans and hiring ratios? Great, let’s keep going.” Eventually the stupid questions dry up and people who ask them may stop coming to the meetings. Perfect.

But my favorite meeting cure was practiced by Craig Benson…..(read more)

WSJ

Mr. Kessler, a former hedge-fund manager, is the author, most recently, of “Eat People” (Portfolio, 2011).



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