Sometimes meetings are absolutely crucial; frequently, they are not. Why? Organizational norms and behaviours can get in the way sometimes if they aren't refreshed. So, I propose a refresher.
An anonymous voting feature built into electronic systems managing meetings/calendars. Raise 'necessity consciousness', save time, minimize disruption – enable more progress.
The greatest threat to productivity is divided and fragmented atttention, and this is exactly what's happening. And sometimes, that's ok even necessary. But I would argue that many times it's neither.
The problem here is waste created by unecessary meetings. Productivity can be wasted in two interrelated ways:
1. More time in meetings means less time for other activities
2. More time in meetings means greater disruption of work flow
Results require progress. Progress requires time and continuity. Meetings interfere with both of these. For critical meetings, this is acceptable. For the rest, it's not.
This problem must be addressed.
The answer is complex. It depends who you ask and their present context (e.g., informational needs, decision making style, personality, role, accountability, competing demands, line of sight, etc). Necessity is subjective. It will always be evaluated relative to individual context.
Therefore, you cannot start and stop at the individual level. Instead, while the question is posed individually the answer should be aggregated. The decision should be based on consensus.
I propose a simple technological adapation to current email/calendar/meeting systems (e.g., groupwise, outlook, etc). Everytime a meeting is booked, the creator and recipients are required to respond to the question posed above and select "yes", "no", or "I don't know".
The responses would be anonymously and automatically aggregated by the software. If the accepted conditions are not, the meeting is not held. An automatically generated cancellation would occur, notifying the creator and recipients and removing the time from their calendars.
The change is cultural, and it is "lived" through communication technology. The proposition is to insert one simple procedural step for every scheduled meeting (asking the question about necessity). The practice would be then to respond honestly to the question.
Here is a video I made explaining these ideas.
The first impact is cognitive, it's about mind set. Often, there is an accepted organizational norm: all meetings are necessary and mandatory by default. This is may not actually relfect what everyone privately believes, but this is what is publically observed in their behaviour. And the norm is reinforced every meeting. Absences occur only for when important professional or personal conflicts emerge.
Encouraging people to think about necessity is the first step toward change. Reactions will vary in terms of certitude and perceived value, but the question functions as a signal - let's spend our time productively. If people respond honestly, it can change the norm. "Yes, some meetings are absolutely necessary. When this isn't the case, I've got better things to do". When this type of thinking has a place, it can spill over to other activities as well. At a minimum helps foster an attitude to curb meetings for their own sake.
The second impact is behavioural. Less time in meetings means less fragmented, divided spans of time. People have more continuous time for their work. This translates into the potential for greater progress. Most objectives or goals are 'distal' - they don't happen over the span of a few days, weeks or months; rather they're much more likely to reflect an End-of-Year target. Whether or not the target is reached depends on daily or weekly activity - stuff that happens in the very short term. These 'proximal' goals are much easier to achieve if more time and attention can be devoted to them.
By raising necessity consciousness for meetings, fewer uneccessary meetings are likely to occur. The time savings translate into greater continuity and larger chunks of time available for work.
At the individual level, more undivided time is spent on work. At the team level, greater productivity generates potential for faster turn around times for projects. At a business unit level, the effects are again exponential. The greater the magnitude of hours saved, the greater the potential for the advancement of projects and objectives. Certainly, the utility is not infinitely linear, but is it is substantial enough to warrant careful consideration.
Less time in meetings means more time for other things. Importantly, this allows for more undivided time. When time savings reach tens, hundreds, or thousands of recovered hours, candidates for achievement are many.
A quick and dirty version requires a very trusting team, or a moderately trusting and a facilitator (an HR or Talent Management individual). As discussed briefly in the challenges, a low trust team should explore and address existing challenges.
1. The team is asked to review their calendar of past meetings, and if anything jumps out as memorably unnecessary make a note of it. Don't bust your brain here, but if something leaps to mind, note it. (15m max)
2. The team meets to review (1) and then look at future scheduled meetings. For each meeting the same vote is applied "Is this meeting absolutely necessary". The idea would be for everyone to privately record a "yes" or "no" on a piece of paper, fold it so it's not visible, and then put it in the center of the table.
3. Tally up the votes. For each time there is any "no" vote, probe and discuss. Capture the rationale.
4. Collect the results.
5. For each new meeting, the creator must be certain the meeting is absolutely necessary.
5a. Alternative: use a website where a quick and simple vote can be created and tallied.
5b. Alternative: Set an OE goal to reduce the number of meetings by asking and answering if the meeting is absolutely necessary.
5c. Combine any or all of 5, 5a, and 5b.
6. Audit (1-4) again after 6-8 weeks for all the new meetings.
7. For the 2nd, 3rd, etc audit. Ask what's working well? What isn't? Poll: Are unnecessary meetings still happening? What can be done?
Consider two versions, one without the manager or supervisor and one with this person.