How many times have you been called into a meeting only to realize five minutes into it that you’re likely going to speak for sixty seconds… if you’re lucky? You potentially hold one piece of valuable information, and the rest of the discussion doesn’t concern you much. There are probably four other people like that in the room as well.
No company does meetings well. People will always be struggling to get better with meetings until meeting nirvana is attained, and there are no meetings. I recently read about an idea that the Pinterest engineering organization has been trying out to enable their engineering team more contiguous blocks of time for development. They only have meetings on Mondays and Fridays, giving them a long stretch of time for work in the middle of the week.
Inside the organization this is seemingly being considered a success. Externally, it was met with mixed reviews — and understandably so. It appears the number of meetings and time spent in meetings hasn’t gone down, it was just time boxed differently. I’m glad Pinterest didn’t just stick to the status quo, this is still a net-positive, but it doesn’t bring us closer to our goal of meeting nirvana.
There are two ways to reduce the amount of time spent in meetings. Less meetings or shorter meetings.
Let’s imagine an ordinary 30 minute team catch up meeting. Not a brainstorming session, not a quarterly planning meeting, and not a 1 on 1. If we had to make the meeting only 15 minutes long, then you’d have two options. Compress what’s important into 15 minutes or lose 15 minutes worth of valuable information. I don't know about you, but I've rarely been in a meeting where every moment felt high signal and low noise, so let's work with the compression scenario.
The compressed information is going to very likely be the information you need to get a team on the same page. But what if we can’t cover everything in 15 minutes you say? Then whoever needs to stay to get the remaining details hashed out can stay. Everyone else is free to leave, with no stigma attached, and more information than they had coming in. Meetings are still booked for 30 minutes to accommodate the people who may need more time, but most people will be able to get more time to get back to their non-meeting duties.
The great manager Michael Lopp, aka Rands once said
If a meeting completes its intended purpose before it’s scheduled to end, let’s give the time back to everyone.
What if we scheduled all meetings with a goal of giving people their time back? I’d love to hear what ideas you may have for that.
Joe Fabisevich is an indie developer creating software at Red Panda Club Inc. while writing about design, development, and building a company. Formerly an iOS developer working on societal issues @Twitter. These days I don't tweet, but I do post on Threads.
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