Two people sit mostly naked in the snow, breathing deeply. They remain quiet and still for a long time.
Topics: meeting design
All of them.
For some, this intervention provides a much-needed break and the time they needed to redesign a more thoughtful approach. See the HBR article Meeting Overload is a Fixable Problem by Rebecca Hinds and Bob Sutton for an example.
(You can find several more examples in this Meeting Innovation Community discussion thread.)
For others, their calendars quickly fill back up, just like a trash heap in the belly of a starship.
That's because interventions like these don't address the root causes of ineffective meetings. We've found that there are three underlying root cause problems that lead to chronically bad meetings.
It looks to me like we've broken work. Not for everyone, and not everywhere, but for a lot of teams the WE part of work isn't working.
I know. This isn't new.
Work has been kinda broken for a lot of people for a long time. But take it from a lady who deploys lots of duct tape and safety pins: there's a big difference between kinda broken and all-the-way broken.
The lockdowns broke office work. They forced many people out of jobs, and many more into isolation in an attempt to protect our communities. Even though we went through this experience together, we experienced it alone. We were forced to craft a way of working that was uniquely tailored to our individual circumstances. As "3 weeks to flatten the curve" morphed into multiple years with an ever-shifting end goal, we developed new habits.
This is a popular search. For those of you building infographics and reports and term papers, here's the bottom line up front.
Our 2022 best-guess estimates for the number of meetings per day in the US:
- 1976: 11 million
- 2015: 55 million
- 2020 lockdown: 80+ million
- 2022: 62 to 80 million
For everyone else, read on to understand where these numbers come from, why they're irrelevant for most people, and when (or if) you should care about the number of meetings in your organization.
Did you know that the first stop sign was installed in 1915?
Many teams endure too much time wasted in unproductive meetings. I am increasingly convinced that this is not due to a lack of knowledge.
Want to help me test this hypothesis? Take our short survey and share it with your peers!
We are awash in information about How to plan and run productive meetings. We have centuries of useful tips and multiple professions full of people who know how to structure and lead a productive meeting to draw upon.
I believe instead that those ineffective meetings are a systemic issue. If leaders really wanted to address their meeting problems, they could - but they don't.
Something gets in the way. That something is baked into the team culture. It's the
"how things get done around here." It's a system that has no allowance for making changes to meetings.
Of course, the company handbook doesn't decree that "Thou shalt run soul-sucking meetings." If the meetings are bad and we're not talking about the meetings, then that's a shadow system. Shadow systems are full of unwritten rules, workarounds, and habits governing how people interact. Part ingenuity, part social conformity, and a whole bunch of just not looking too closely because we have other priorities right now thank you very much.
Topics: meeting culture
Want to quickly make an enormous impact on the meetings in your organization? Roll out an effective strategy for your Team Cadence and Progress Check meetings.
Too much time wasted in unproductive meetings. Meeting overload. Zoom fatigue. Article after article decries the plague of too many meetings gobbling up our time.
Looking for data about how awful this problem is and some recycled quick tips?
No problem! These are just a few of the articles published on this topic in the past few months.
- If we’re all so busy, why isn’t anything getting done? (Jan 10, McKinsey)
- "When do you pee?" Managing Meeting Overload in 2022 (Jan 19, LinkedIn Pulse)
- How to deal with meetings overload: cancel a lot of them (Feb 22, Irish Times)
- Dear Manager, You’re Holding Too Many Meetings (March 9, Harvard Business Review)
- It’s confirmed: meetings are a waste of time (March 25, New Statesman)
- He Built a $3 Billion Business to Solve Calendar Headaches. Here's His Vision for the Future of Meetings (March, Inc)
- How To Have Better Meetings (Apr 1, Corporate Rebels)
- This is What Happens When There Are Too Many Meetings (Apr 4, The Atlantic)
- 5 ways to put an end to your 'meeting inflation (Apr 6, Advisory Board)
- Are your meetings sh*t? 9 tried and tested ways to improve meetings in your business (Apr 8, Monkhouse and Company)
The articles keep coming, but the challenge persists.
One reason: these complaints don't actually apply to all meetings. People are not upset that they spend too much time meeting with clients, or have too many solution design sessions.
The problem is all the status meetings, the team meetings, and the ad-hoc "synch-ups", "check-ins", and "touch-bases" that drag teams down.
Topics: meeting design
Several years ago I wrote an article for Inc. about 3 Powerful Ways to Help Your Team Cope With Tragedy. At the time, the tragedy was the burning of Notre Dame.
I enjoy planning meetings. I also enjoy large, easy jigsaw puzzles.
When you know the basic shape you’re going for, and you have a bunch of the pieces handy, it can be quite satisfying to get them to all fit together into a nice, coherent picture. With a jigsaw puzzle, it’s very clear that the value is in the activity itself. People who puzzle do so because they enjoy spending their time figuring it out—not because they’re genuinely curious about what the end picture might be.
Like the picture you see when you finish a jigsaw puzzle, most of the plans you get at the end of a planning meeting aren’t really meant to last.
Topics: meeting design
Meeting overload, zoom fatigue, and too much time wasted in unproductive meetings: these problems grow during periods of rapid change. Bad meetings proliferate when we struggle to communicate well. And when things change rapidly, we need to share more information more often to keep on top of the situation.
According to a 2013 study by PMI, $75 million for every $1 billion spent on projects is put at risk by ineffective communications. (source)
Remember 2013? Looking back, those seem like such simple times! How much more money do you imagine we're losing now, after two years of constant uncertainty? If we struggled to share information effectively back then, it's no wonder that today's meeting madness has become so overwhelming.
Now imagine, what else might we accomplish if we could redirect those wasted funds (and time and energy) towards achieving some worthwhile goals?