If you’ve worked in an office, ever, you know that meetings can be the worst part of your day. We love to hate them and are aware of the hit that our productivity takes because of them, yet we continue to have them–over and over again until we find ourselves wondering why we spend so much time in something that seems to make us inefficient.
A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that most managers and employees are overwhelmed by their meetings—whether formal or informal, traditional or agile, face-to-face or electronically mediated. The average employee spends 23 hours a week in them, a good 13 hour increase in the past 50 years.
One study found that despite the prevalence of meetings today, 75% of those surveyed had received no formal training in how to conduct or participate in them. The same study also found that an estimated $30 Billion of time is wasted in meetings in the US alone with a single meeting between several managers costing upwards of $1000 an hour in salaries alone.
Every minute spent in a prodigal meeting eats into time for solo work that’s equally essential for creativity and efficiency. For another, schedules packed with meetings interrupt “deep work”—a term that the Georgetown computer science professor Cal Newport uses to describe the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.
In this article, we explore how and why some of the top business leaders are cutting down on meetings to increase team productivity by highlighting varying approaches of popular entrepreneurs.
The Mavericks' owner and serial investor has mentioned on several occasions that he prefers e-mail over in-person meetings or even phone and video calls. He credits his highly productive schedule to his departure from physical meetings. In a podcast with Thrive Global he exclaims his love for e-mail - “Love it. Live on it. Saves me hours and hours every day, No meetings. No phone calls. All because of email.”
Even urgent affairs can’t persuade the billionaire to call a meeting together. “If there’s a problem and we need to solve it, I’ll do a call,” he told Entrepreneur, exclaiming that meetings are a “productivity hit.” “Other than that, I keep communication limited to email. It’s more efficient,” said Cuban.
“Most of my meetings are now Google doc-based, starting with 10-minutes of reading and commenting directly in the doc,” Dorsey tweeted in 2018. “This practice makes time for everyone to get on [the] same page, allows us to work from many locations, and gets to truth/critical thinking faster.”
This is a dramatic turnaround for someone who was previously notorious for having 10 hours of meetings every Monday! This came right after the then Twitter CEO Dick Costolo stepped down, making way for Dorsey as the next Commander-in-Chief of the Billion dollar social media giant. Dorsey’s egress from traditional meetings in a bid to enhance efficiency, adds his name to a multitude of other entrepreneurs doing the same.
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has his own peculiar notions about almost everything and meetings are no exception. Elon's heavy crack down on unproductive meetings shouldn't come as a surprise for a person whose day job is saving the planet.
“Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get [out] of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.” says Elon. He further adds, “Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.” This, rather predictably, is as blunt as it comes.
The founder and CEO of Amazon avoids early morning meetings and convenes with investors for just six hours a year. He also popularized the now familiar two pizzas rule where he won’t attend a meeting if 2 pizzas can't feed the entire group.
When he does set up meetings with Amazon execs, he has them read through a six-page memo at the start. ”[The memo is] supposed to create the context for what will then be a good discussion,” the CEO said at a recent Forum on Leadership.
All this being said, it should not come as a surprise that the same leaders who have different tactics to eliminate meetings also agree that often, these meetings are a necessary evil. They can be essential for enabling collaboration, creativity, and innovation. They often foster relationships and ensure proper information exchange. The alternative to more meetings should not lead to autocratic decision-making, less input from all levels throughout the organization and fewer opportunities to ensure alignment and communication by personal interaction.
So the goal is not to kill all meetings but to eliminate the ineffective or unnecessary ones and improve the quality of those that remain. To do this, leaders need to understand what they do well and not so well in meetings, and wherever possible, replace an hour long meeting with a minute long e-mail.