A Super-Strict Meeting Lockdown. Now!
Earlier this year, we were invited by a Dutch media platform to write a monthly column. We decided to pick up this gauntlet, and now our first piece has been published. Naturally, our first piece revolved around the overall silliness of having so many damn meetings. This is what we wrote.
A pandemic of meetings
Let me get straight to the point: I want you to cancel all of your meetings for the next two weeks. Just remove them from your calender. If people ask you about it, you can tell them that I told you to remove them, personally.
This may sound rigorous, and it will definitely cause some problems here and there, but trust me, in the long run, it's better this way because we are dealing with a literal pandemic of meetings. And if we've learned anything over the past two years, it's that half-hearted measures don't work.
Research by Microsoft — and they have a worrying level of detailed insights into how you spend your day — shows that since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of corporate meetings worldwide has increased by 250%. That's insane, isn't it? Two-and-half times as many meetings! What?
I get it, to an extent. If you are not physically together, it is indeed a natural reflex to schedule digital meetings more often — if only to alleviate some of the loneliness. But did that really work? Did we really get less lonely from watching a screen plastered with small squares of colleagues who were obviously staring at other tabs? Did it make us more productive?
No, of course not. So, why didn't we stop?
One major reason is guilt. If you work from home, you may be inclined to chat with your neighbor, do some laundry, or even do some shopping during the work day or "office hours." This is supposedly not what you're suppose to do at work, right?
Talking about football at the coffee bar at your office for half an hour is work, but as soon as we do things during working hours at home that we don't associate with our job, we feel guilty. So, we like to show that we are really busy with work things when working from home. And what better way to show that than with a schedule full of meetings. Look at how productive I am — I'm getting the most out of my day over here!
Hanging out with your dog for a bit? Not work. A meeting? Well, that's obviously work.
However, you rarely hear someone say something sensible during a meeting, such as "I think we can go without this meeting from now on, right?" Well, of course not. That would somehow mean less work. Less meetings = less work.
Or so we think.
You've probably had a few this week already as well. Were you glad you attended them? Did you gain new insights? Would you have gotten stuck otherwise? Is everyone aligned again? Was anything really accomplished?
Or would you have been better off taking a few minutes to toss your dog some treats during those meetings?
An annoying interruption
It seems like meetings are often no more than an annoying interruption of our work. In their book Rework, Basecamp founders Jason Fried and David Heinermeier give seven reasons why this is.
Meetings are about vague, non-concrete issues. They discuss far too little information per second. They constantly dwell away from the subject. They often have no clear goal. They require preparation that nobody has time for. They have always an asshole who takes change to waste everyone's time.
And last, but not least, meetings reproduce. One meeting leads to another, two new meetings are added to the agenda as a result, then maybe a meeting about who needs to attend the next one after that. And so on and so forth.
A meeting lockdown
This is why I'm proposing a meeting lockdown. Delete them all from your calendar. Don't worry, the world really isn't going to end. Continuing with what we are doing right now is much more harmful. Stop the exponential meeting growth.
I'm not saying you should stop all your meetings forever. Not all meetings suck — only the shit meetings do. But here's the thing: in order to realize which meetings suck, we simply need to stop them all. After the fallout, you'll have a better idea which ones suck and which ones are actually needed.
Take at least two weeks to identify which meetings really were necessary, which ones could be shorter in the future, or whether there are meetings that you can handle with fewer people after the lockdown has been lifted.
You'll also discover better ways to let colleagues know where you are and how they can help you, and, perhaps more importantly, you'll realize how much time you have created for yourself.
According to American research, this is an average of six hours a day. Six a day! Even if you only use half that time to do something useful, it's still a huge profit.
A Super-Strict Meeting Lockdown. Now!
We recently held a brainstorming session at our office for the newest on-demand course for the Academy—one about the concept of Psychological Safety. During the session, we discussed how one of the things you can do to create psychological safety is to embrace failure instead of avoiding it. But this is hard because failing is not fun. It absolutely sucks. Therefore, it is better not to celebrate the failure itself but rather celebrate the lessons learned from it.
How many times have you heard of companies coaching candidates for ‘senior teams’, ‘top talent’ and ‘future leaders? That is, the ‘special ones’ who are worth coaching attention! Sure, there will be talent brewing who, with good coaching, will go from ‘potentially great’ to ‘actually great’. And some brilliant coaches do great work with senior teams. However, does a ‘coaching for senior leaders’ paradigm pass scrutiny, given how organisations are changing? Or is the potential of other staff hamstrung by a short-sighted view of who is worth investing in?
So, we write a monthly column for MT/Sprout, a Dutch media platform. Last month, we wrote about how our agendas are always packed full with meetings. We followed that with this month's column about how replacing all these meetings with e-mail is not a good alternative. Why? Because there is a big chance you will waste even more time and money. Allow me to explain.