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Work Meetings: How to Cut Them Out & Still Succeed

Unless configured correctly, meetings in the workplace are the single biggest time wasters. Learn how to cut them out and still produce quality work!

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BY Adam Heitzman - 07 Jun 2018

Work Meetings: How to Cut Them Out & Still Succeed

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Tesla & SpaceX CEO Elon Musk constantly speaks out against stale company traditions, even going as far as telling his employees to walk out of meetings if they are no longer of value to the discussion. CEO Bill Green labels meetings as a "huge waste of time that breeds a culture of indecision."

While innovative new management methods regarding meetings certainly sound great in theory, it's not easy in practice. If your organization has established tenets, changing them can prove difficult. So how can you cut back on meetings, while still keeping your team effective? We share four tips here...

Take stock of attendees and what that costs the company
To start a meeting-lite diet, keep track of both participants and length of your regular meetings. Then use an estimation calculator to find the total cost of your regular meetings, as well as the individual price associated with each participant. Odds are, once management sees the figures associated with meetings, they'll be ready to start cutting.

Look around at your next stand up or all-hands, who really need to be there? Can you have smaller team meetings instead? Is each staff member providing value? Guest lists for meetings should be kept tight. Think of each employee as a contractor that bills hourly and use that time wisely. Jeff Bezos coined the famous 2 Pizza Rule for meetings at Amazon. This concept states that a meeting should never have more people than 2 pizzas would feed, any more than that and it becomes unproductive.

Do not underestimate the power of project management
Project management is a broad concept, that looks different depending on an organization's size, client base, goals, and multiple other factors. However, the main theory remains the same; plan & establish projects, assign tasks, strategize on realistic time frames, manage expectations, execute, and asses results.

Large companies often have project manager (PM) positions- this person has the single goal of managing people and tasks to ensure results. When modifying your meeting structure, they should be the first person to tap. Larger organizations are also challenged with bureaucracy when it comes to change (such as axing long-held meeting standards). So while it's useful that you can task PMs to revamp your meeting models, there is often red-tape to deal with as well.
Smaller organizations generally do not have the resources for a PM role, but that doesn't mean project management is out of your grasp. Can you allocate project management tasks to a staff member with available bandwidth? If you have multiple teams, you can choose a team lead that will manage specific projects. Not only will this empower deserving employees, but it will keep teams on track and focused, which will, in turn, cut down the need for continuous check-ins with management.

Project Management Programs
Collaborative digital software for project management is designed to seamlessly integrate teams of all sizes. For smaller organizations on a budget, many programs offer free versions. A few of popular options include:

  • Trello - a Web-based application that uses organizational boards (similar to Pinterest) offers a free version, as well as paid subscriptions.
  • Basecamp - integrates multiple services such as discussion boards, storage, scheduling, etc. The cost associated is a $99/month flat fee, which can be a drawback.
  • Asana - Web-based program, offers a free and subscription-based version (negative- you pay per user). Asana is highly customizable and organizes teams into 'workspaces.'
  • Confluence - Part of the Atlassian family, confluence is a content collaboration software with a focus on team-transparency. They offer both cloud-based, or self-hosted versions. While widely used, this program is definitely geared more towards large organizations.

Even if your company is not as digitally-inclined and can't really implement a new software, you can still manually project manage to cut down the need for frequent meetings. Even methods such as a large whiteboard and post-it notes will aid team members in visualizing tasks and progress.

Bottom line; with project management organization and efficiency are the name of the game. The more organized your team, the fewer meetings you need to have.

For imperative meetings- use agendas and stay on message

Meetings will still need to happen. Once you've downsized your attendees, and identified necessary meetings, it's time to make them even more efficient. Agendas are certainly not a groundbreaking concept, but still integral. Require agendas to be sent in advance, this way supervisors can glance over and make the last pass at cutting attendees. This also serves as a simple confirmation that there is a reason for that meeting in the first place. If a team member can't put together an agenda- no need to meet.

Agendas should also identify who will be driving the meeting and set clear objectives to accomplish. Focus more on action items rather than discussion topics. This will cut out the unnecessary chatter. Think more; 'What is the goal here and how can we accomplish it?' and less; 'What does everyone think about that?' Meetings are time for action, not reflection!

Implement out-of-the-box meeting strategies
Even after you've cut the fat, keeping meetings successful and accomplished is still difficult. How can you promote healthy and effective communication in an environment where ideas thrive, while still remaining on-task? Step outside the office (and the box)!

If you need to have a meeting that is more of jam session where ideas are being tossed around (ie- you don't need to a powerpoint presentation) take it on the road. Walking meetings are a great way to collaborate while getting the blood flowing, bonus if you can go outdoors.

If your meetings do need to take place in the conference room, think of creative ways to make sure you stay on track. SaaS company, Brivo employed a no rehash paddle. If someone tries to rehash a topic or beat a dead horse another team member holds up the paddle. This is a tongue-in-cheek way to make sure no one is going on a long diatribe, without hurting that team member's feelings.

The Takeaway
However you decide to cut down on meetings, it needs to be strategic, you can't go from weekly team meetings or communicating daily to completely incommunicado. Aim at creating self-sufficient teams that can operate through day-to-day issues autonomously. When you do have meetings, make them short and focused, with only essential staff members present.

What meetings can your organization dispense with? Commit to not wasting time and revamp your meeting model today!