Most people hate meetings but they still waste hours upon hours of not only their time but colleagues time on them annually. I always like to work between Christmas and New Years because I get more done than I feel I typically do in a month. I realized this year that the reason for the much higher productivity is that I am not spending most of every day in meetings, often ones with questionable value. If you add the cost (wages) from my wasted time to that of all the other people who are not optimizing their time during meeting where they are not deriving or creating value, there is an opportunity to increase significantly your team or company’s operational efficiency.
Delete all meetings once a year (easiest in January) and then only reschedule the ones you need and only with the people you need to attend. This is a strategy I wrote about in 2015, that I stole from a top-five game company, that company now is one of the two or three largest in the US.
Talk, don’t meet. Sometimes a quick conversation can resolve items without needing a meeting.
Ensure everyone invited needs to be there. If someone is on there phone during the whole meeting, it is less that person’s fault than the meeting organizer who brought in someone who was not needed.
Let people opt-out. If somebody says they do not want to attend a meeting, respect their wishes.
Prepare before a meeting. If you are going to be reviewing financials or KPIs, have the analysis complete and know what you want to discuss. Nobody wants to sit around watching you work on a spreadsheet during a meeting
Have people arrive early. Everyone should be early for meetings so that they can stay on time. You and your colleagues should get to the meeting five minutes early so that people can settle and be ready at the start time. By starting late, you are wasting money having people just sit around.
Schedule meetings for 25 minutes. That will allow five minutes to get to the next meeting early. Abandon one hour (or longer) meetings, so that the meetings stay focused. It is better to schedule a follow up than have an extra 30 mins that people feel they have to fill. Only schedule 55 minutes when you are confident you will need all 55 minutes,
Share an agenda with all attendees. Share an agenda for meetings a few days in advance and allow people to opt out if there is no business relevant to them being discussed. If you use Outlook or a similar organizer, best to put the agenda in the invite.
Include a timetable. With the agenda, include a timetable so people can attend for the part of the meeting relevant
If you make these changes, you will be surprised at how liberated you feel. Meetings will take on improved importance, making them more interesting to you but also to your colleagues. Everyone will benefit from better meetings.
Improving efficiency from meetings can save your company money, significant savings can come from reducing the wages lost by people attending meetings that they do not contribute to and do not derive value.
Start with a clean slate, delete all meetings and only add ones you need, and invite the people who need to be there.
Reduce meetings to 25 minutes so you can start on time (and arrive on time for the next meeting) and share an agenda and timetable before the meeting.
I have seen many examples of people who want to be the smartest at a meeting, or on an email thread, but the most successful are the ones who want to be the dumbest at the meeting. While it may feel that the strategy of highlighting your intelligence is important for your career or management, the opposite is true. Instead, if you focus on trying not to be the smartest person in the room, you are likely to be the most successful. You will get better input, more creative ideas and improved team performance when you allow others to be the smartest.
Surround yourself with the best
First, you should surround yourself with the best people available. If your goal is to be the smartest, then you are not necessarily putting great people around you. Thus, their performance is likely to be sub-optimal. Great people generate great results and you need to be willing to surround yourself with great people. It is these top performers who drive success.
Not going to learn from yourself
If you spend most of a meeting talking or trying to impress, you are not learning anything. How can you learn when you are talking. If you are trying to find the optimal solution to a problem but focus the conversation on what you are saying, you will cap out at your best solution to the problem, not the best solution in the room. By letting everyone speak and respecting their ideas, you will have the option of selecting the best one. Assuming it is your decision, you then have the option of your best idea or your best idea plus all the others that are proposed. In a worst case, you can still proceed with your idea but now you have many more options.
Everyone has good ideas
If you look at all the fantastic ideas throughout time, you will see that there was not one (or even) a small group responsible for the majority of them. While Stephen Hawking wrote about singularity, Albert Einstein built the theory of relativity, Michio Kaku came up with string theory, etc. The point is that no matter how smart any one person is, there are millions of other very intelligent people. This phenomenon exists on all levels, from the best physicists to the smartest marketers to the best product managers. While you may have some very creative solutions to improve monetization, do not think that others in the room do not have even better ideas.
Great leaders are not great at everything
If you are a great leader, there is no way you are also great at every functional area you are responsible for. You may have wonderful leadership skills, and have risen to that position by innovating on the growth team and building a Unicorn. That does not mean you know analytics better than your lead analyst or finance better than your CFO. You should defer to the experts rather than trying to tell them how to do their work.
It is not only important to let other’s talk at meetings, it is more important to listen to them. Nobody is going to be motivated to talk if you are not listening. People can tell if you are asking them to talk just to check off a box or whether you and others are actually listening and digesting what they are saying. More importantly, you are not generating any additional value by having people propose ideas or raise concerns and then not addressing them.
The above point leads to a critical element of why you want to be the dumbest in the room, you want to leverage the suggestions and ideas everyone has. This is not an exercise in getting buy-in from everyone by pretending to listen to their concerns or advise and then going with your initial idea. The goal is to get the best comments from everybody, have the team work together to synthesize the suggestions into an idea superior to anything anyone (yourself included) initially had. Come out with a better idea, not a perceived feel good exercise that really puts you in the same position.
Measure on results, not sound bites
The measure of success of a meeting, or a working group, or an email thread is not how smart it made you look but that it generated the best possible results. These results are what will also drive your long-term success, not how much you impressed the others at the meeting or on the email (last thought, you didn’t impress them anyway but made them think you were pompous).
Rather than trying to sound the smartest at a meeting, you should aim to be the dumbest.
It is more important to surround yourself with great people who will bring performance to a level higher than any individual can achieve.
You not only need to get input from everyone but actually use the input to come up with better solutions than you are initially proposing.
I recently met with a former colleague who has been leading marketing efforts for one of the top five US game companies for the last ten years, and she told me about one small thing they did that has had a tremendous impact on their success and culture. The company has gone from being a relatively small game developer with no external financing to a part of one of the largest, multi-billion companies in the video game industry. What is amazing that over the ten years, the company has not experienced any serious downturns or down-sizing, which in the game industry makes it the exception to the rule.
The secret to success
I was speaking with my colleague about what they do differently that leads to this success and she mentioned how at the beginning of every year they cancel all meetings. Then they start from scratch scheduling necessary meetings. There are multiple benefits to this tactic: Continue reading “Cancel all meetings, be successful”
I have written multiple times about collaboration and how valuable it is, and a recent piece in the Harvard Business Review – “Bringing out the best in your team” by Brian Bonner and Alexander Bolinger – reminded me of one critical ingredient. As all of us have experienced repeatedly, from case studies in business school to conference calls to team meetings, usually a small subset of the group drives the call or meeting. This phenomenon leads to two problems:
The people dominating the meeting are not necessarily the ones with the most relevant knowledge.
Everyone at the meeting should have something valuable to add, otherwise they should not be at the meeting, so letting a few monopolize restricts the knowledge shared.
A recent Harvard Business review post by John Coleman about “old-school” business practices worth bringing back highlighted several traditional office habits that still improve productivity.While I love posting about the cool new trends (growth vs marketing , lifetime value-driven ad spending, etc.) that can have a huge impact on your business, I agree with Coleman that you shouldn’t abandon everything from business pre-2005. The four suggestions from Coleman’s post that I most agree with (he had five but I was not sold on one of them) are:
Make meetings distraction free. This to me is the most important practice Coleman highlights, and it’s not necessarily “old school.” Meetings are not as productive if half (or even one) attendee is looking at their phone or playing with their laptop. Getting rid of these distractions make meetings more focused and productive. Although those using their devices may be doing something productive, if they have something more important to do they should not be in the meeting in the first place. (This brings to mind another good practice: make sure everyone in a meeting needs to be there.) Continue reading “Four old-school business practices that still create value”