Getting Rid Of Meetings In Four Steps
By Deborah Lovich
Date Published: Jun 9, 2021
Even before the pandemic changed life as we know it, most of us were aware that many of the (decision-making, hand-holding, information-sharing, dog-and-pony show, pitch, problem-solving, staff, team-building, and training) meetings we were expected to attend—or felt left out if we weren’t asked to participate—were, to be polite, not that productive. And to make matters worse, a large percentage of them were recurring.
That’s why I was pleased when BCG’s CEO, Rich Lesser, called me not long ago with a request. I don’t remember his exact words, but it went something like this: ‘Debbie I think the most important thing to get right post-Covid is meetings. We learned a lot during Covid-19 about how to conduct more-effective and more-efficient meetings and how to reduce travel time. But we also learned what’s hard to do remotely. Can you help me think this through so I can write something on the topic?’
Of course, I jumped at the chance and we had a great exchange, which resulted in a short post. The essence is that remote work and the level playing field it enables is better for some things, such as sharing information, having open discussions and making decisions. And for those who have mastered tools like Miro, a worthy online substitute for Post-It notes on walls, it can even improve brainstorming. But for social connection and networking it is hard to replicate the in-person, over dinner and drinks, common experience of connecting with others. Rich’s bottom line: Plan the type of interaction that matches the goal.
We also learned after a year of 14-hour days with back-to-back Zoom calls that not everything requires a meeting. We need to take a machete to the needless recurring Zoom sessions and bring back the lost art of ad hoc, one-on-one phone conversations for quick questions or catch ups. After all, our research shows that employees value flex in time as much as they value flex in place. So, drop the superfluous group caucuses and talk when you need to talk.
In my crusade against recurring Zoom meetings (no disrespect intended to Zoom, which has been a life-saver during the pandemic), I tried to set an example for others. So, instead of the Zoom meeting I had planned with members of our global “Future of Work” team (Yes, I too set up recurring Zoom meetings for my team.), I sent an email to all the attendees titled, “A gift for you,” offering to cancel the meeting, give them time back on their calendars, and even send chocolates to their homes, if they would take five to 10 minutes to fill in a survey with any new information and recent developments they were planning to discuss at the meeting. I would then consolidate the replies and share them. I got an abysmal response.
I then tried a different approach, assuming they were suffering, as I was, from email overload and had not seen my email offering gifts.
What I did this time was ask their administrative assistants to schedule a 10- to 15-minute block of time, at their convenience, to complete the survey—organizing, in effect, an asynchronous meeting. I got a slightly better response, but still not the same as I would get if I asked everyone to drop everything and attend the same Zoom call for a half-hour to an hour.
Should I give up on trying to replace meetings with asynchronous interactions? I don’t think so. We just need to figure out how to make them work.
My takeaway is that (a) we are all still overloaded with incoming and outgoing communications of all sorts, much of it just background noise of a sort, like static, and (b) it will take time and personal discipline to make asynchronous and other non-meeting forms of interacting seem natural and routine.
In the meantime, how do we get there before our old habits of too-long, over-populated, low-value meetings return, with the preparatory meetings before the meetings, and the preliminary meetings before the preparatory meetings before the meetings?
Here is my suggested solution:
Step One: At the end of every meeting set aside five to 10 minutes to poll those in attendance on two questions (have people actually write down and submit their answers):
a. Was this meeting better or worse than interactions during Covid-19? If better, why? If worse, why?
b. What should /could we do differently next time to maximize productivity— nothing is off the table?
Step Two: Discuss answers and agree which changes to implement when.
Step Three: Repeat after every meeting.
Step Four: When you finally have something that works really well (likely to take many iterations), share your solutions with others.
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