Carving Out a New Path for More Effective Meetings

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Aug 27, 2010

There have been a million blog posts about meetings. Actually it’s closer to 10 million blog posts, but you get my drift.

Most of them have to do with how to get better performance out of your meetings — things like setting an agenda, being prepared, having all of the materials in place, etc. It’s all good information, but we all keep coming back to the fact that business meetings are simply a pain. Even if your meetings are all of these things, they still seem repetitive, boring, and add very little value to the organization.

While communication is one of the primary reasons for having a meeting in the first place, you still see companies with the best meeting protocol struggle with communication. It’s like we keep going back to the same solutions that didn’t work before over and over again. Isn’t that the definition of insanity?

The other day though, I saw a post from Kris Dunn about how setting your meetings for only 30 minutes instead of 60 can not only give you increased productivity, but can also impact your organizational design. I was intrigued.

He said in his post:

OD doesn’t have to be that complex.  In fact, there’s a giant productivity-suck staring you and your company in the face today that could be easily tweaked with an OD initiative that could be researched, launched and executed in under one week.

Your meetings are way too long.

Simple right?  How many times do you get meeting requests for an hour of your time?  What % of the meeting requests do you receive that are 60 minutes vs. 30 minutes?  I’d challenge the system and say that the percentage of 60 minute meetings vs. 30 minute meetings is way too high in most organizations.  You should do something about that, and find an executive champion at the C-level who thinks it’s out of control as well.

And I gave a very excited, “Yes!” to no one in particular. Then I thought about it a little bit.

Ever since I started working from home more than a year ago, I’ve had less formal meetings than in my office jobs. That seems a bit backwards doesn’t it? You’d assume if your boss could step into your office at any time, there would be less necessity than if he or she were 3,000 miles away. What I eventually figured out was that there were more impromptu chats and talks about projects than formal meetings.

What would happen if…

So I thought about my own personal OD initiative. I’ll call it the “Path of least resistance method.” Here’s the premise:

I read about how in Detroit during the winter of 2008-2009, they had massive amounts of snow around for a long time. Residents ended up just following the paths of least resistance through neighborhoods and abandoned lots. In summertime though, they took a look at some satellite photos and they saw something interesting.

Dozens of natural paths carved out by people who didn’t know better because of the snow and simply took the shortest route. And as some noted, many large college campuses use this method to plan out the paths between buildings. They’ll lay grass the first year and once they see where most of the people travel, they’ll lay down sidewalks.

A meeting test you should take

Where am I going with this? What would happen if you put a ban on formal meetings for a month? No weekly’s. No recurring meetings. Nothing.

Instead, you would keep track of the moment when you naturally need information through a formal meeting and only then would you schedule a one-time meeting about it. If you didn’t need information about something, or you could get the information without a meeting, you would be encouraged to do that.

By pulling all meetings off the table, you’re able to track the paths of least resistance in a natural setting. Just like in Detroit, if you didn’t know where the path was to begin with, you would just chart the easiest (and most efficient) path. Taking all meetings off the table and starting over could be a great way to reset and draw paths.

As Kris mentions, this does require C-level buy in but it seems as though it would be a more realistic way to impact the way we do meetings than some of the more common prescriptions.

What are your thoughts about getting the most out of meetings?

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