Want to Waste Less Time in Meetings?

Contrary to popular belief: meetings are not the devil. We look at how to get more creative - and productive - with your weekly gatherings.
Managing Editor and Producer, Behance Inc.
January 11, 2013

Careers have been built on poking fun at meetings. From commercials to comic strips it's no secret that most of us would rather be, you know, working.

But there's good news: Rapid experimentation with meetings in the past decade by startups and Fortune 500 companies alike has produced a new set of rules to consider. Here are three that seem to be universal:  

  1. All meetings must have a stated purpose or agenda. Without an agenda, meetings can easily turn into aimless social gatherings rather than productive working sessions.
  2. Attendees should walk away with concrete next steps or Action Items. We love Action Items here, but we're not the only ones. From Apple to the Toastmasters, the world's most successful organizations demand that attendees leave meetings with actionable tasks.
  3. The meeting should have an end time. Constraints breed creativity. By not placing an endtime, we encourage rambling, off-topic and useless conversation.

Of course, there's no need to stop there. Truly productive companies always continue tweaking to suit their specific culture. Here are a few highlights:

Apple

During the Steve Jobs era, Apple constantly worked to stay true to its startup roots while becoming the largest company in the world.

  1. Every project component or task has a "DRI." According to Fortune's Adam Lashinsky, Apple breeds accountability at meetings by having a Directly Responsible Individual whose name appears next to all of the agenda items they are responsible for. With every task tagged, there's rarely any confusion about who should be getting what done.
  2. Be prepared to challenge and be challenged. There are dozens of tales about Jobs' ability to aggresively question his employees, sometimes moving them to tears. While you probably don't need the waterworks at your office, everyone should be willing to defend their ideas and work from honest criticism. If a person has no ideas to defend, they shouldn't be at the meeting.

Google

In a recent issue of "Think With Google," Google vice president of business operations Kristen Gil described how the company spent 2011 getting back to its original values as a startup, which included reconsidering how the company approached meetings. Some takeaways:

  1. All meetings should have a clear decision maker. Gil credits this approach to helping the Google+ team ship over 100 new features in the 90 days after launch.
  2. No more than 10 people at a meeting. "Attending meetings isn't a badge of honor," she writes.
  3. Decisions should never wait for a meeting. Otherwise, the velocity of the company is slowed to its meeting schedule. If a meeting needs to happen for something to get done, hold the meeting as soon as possible.
  4. Kill ideas, and meetings. After Larry Page replaced Eric Schmidt as Google CEO, the company quickly killed its Buzz, Code Search, and Desktop products so it could focus more resources on less efforts. Focus has to permeate every aspect of a company, including meetings.

Good meetings start before you ever sit down at the table. Read more on 99U about how to master the meeting invite.

Sean Blanda is the Associate Editor and Producer of 99U. He previously founded Technically Media in Philadelphia. You can find him on Twitter: @SeanBlanda.

Photo treatment by Oscar Ramos Orozco