Not so long ago I strong-armed a bunch of my co-workers into reading one of the Domino books, Read This Before our Next Meeting (free for Amazon Prime members). The book is a diatribe against the meeting culture and all the associated time that’s wasted in poorly designed, poorly conceived, poorly run meetings.
It’s a book that you don’t necessarily enjoy reading, because the author, Al Pittampalli doesn’t care much if you like what he has to say, spending most of his energy hitting you over the head with anti-meeting diatribes without making the medicine go down too easily.
That said, the conclusions are hard to ignore: most meetings are inefficient, we are lazy about them, and we could be drastically more productive if we approached them differently.
My starting point is that we underestimate meeting time the way we underestimate the impact of copying 10 people on an email: it doesn’t feel like having 6 people in a 30 minute meeting is three hours of productive work that’s we’re using up. But it is – so shouldn’t the organizer be obliged to spend at least a half hour of prep time each and every time he proposes to use 2.5 hours of his colleagues time?
The most aggressive suggestion in the book is that we should not use meetings to make decisions, we should use meetings to ratify decisions that have already been made.
The building blocks underneath that recommendation are: no meetings without prior agendas, no meetings without significant work done in advance by the meeting organizer, and no meetings without a proposed decision for the group to ratify.
Easy to say, but how often do we get a group together and someone says, “OK, we’re here to talk about…..” That’s not the same as, “We’re planning to do _____, and this meeting is being called to ratify that decision.”
If that is the bar, you get a lot fewer meetings, a lot more preparation, a lot more time to do real work rather than sit in a room and talk.
(Bonus: the next time you get 20 people in the room for a 30 minute meeting, make sure you’re getting 10 hours’ worth of organizational impact out of that half an hour).