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Meetings: the Dilemma and the Solution

6 November, 2019

”I can’t wait to go to this meeting”… said nobody ever.

And yet, we spend more time than ever in meetings, according to a new report from Lund University, in fact, according to all the latest academic and business reports. The reasons for more meetings are justifiable but beg the question, how do we convert meetings from being dreaded and unprofitable to welcome and fruitful?

Increased cooperation and democratization have a domino effect.

It’s ironic that while we spend massive resources increasing the efficiency of workplaces, the consensus is that we’ve lost meeting effectiveness. Workspaces have changed dramatically, and for good reason. Wide open “great room” offices, flexible seating and activity-based work areas where employees move around various spaces configured for quiet work, calls, or collaboration aim to empower workers and conserve one of our most expensive commodities – real estate.   Workplace democratization has made it harder for top management to make big decisions without adequately considering the effects on employees. Employee voice has become more important and decisions are often made in collaboration. Result: more meetings.  Beyond this, additional actors have come heavily into play.  Both governmental and corporate sectors rely increasingly on subcontractors and vendors creating more negotiations, more collaboration and, no surprise, more meetings. 

Can we get more from Amazon and Twitter than Prime and zingers?

 Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos has a unique antidote for improving meetings. Rather than holding a presentation, the meeting holder composes a multi-page narrative style PM, or private message, describing the subject and goals of the meeting. Attendees start the meeting, physically together, by reading the PM. According to Bezos, it’s better to make time for reading during the meeting instead of assuming that everyone will arrive properly prepared – something he says never happens. The PM and initial reading launch the foundation of the discussion. So long, Power-Points, hello collaboration!

Jack Dorsey, CEO of both Twitter and Squares, has adopted a similar tactic. Meeting attendees are instructed to read a shared Google-document, where every person can add comments and thoughts. Doing so allows everyone time to understand the topic and goal, thus reducing time spent and creating shortcuts to the most critical discussions – the ones that usually happen at the end of the meeting.

Next meeting topic for your crew – better meetings?

 In the age of hyper competition for good employees, companies are working hard to create a perk rich, happier work environment.  Many companies recognize this means much more than good ergonomics and 401k matches.  It goes beyond flexible work schedules and discounted gym memberships.  For spending most of our waking time at the office, we’re often being rewarded with company efforts toward inclusion, democratization and even ways to convert meeting aversion to anticipation and accomplishment.  

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