In nearly every dozen workplaces we’ve studied, helped or worked in, we’ve found that meetings create pointless, crushing friction. Now we’ve created the Fixing Meetings Playbook to help companies rethink their meeting cultures.
The Playbook includes a step-by-step guide to help you identify, eliminate, and repair broken meetings, including these five key ingredients for success:
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- Adopt a subtraction mindset: The default way for humans to solve problems is to take something away rather than add something. Through a series of studies, Gabriel Adams of the University of Virginia and his colleagues found that this “disease of addiction” affects meetings as well – people tend to cram more into an already jam-packed calendar without much thought. . Adams’ research shows that when people are reminded to subtract and pause to do so, the interruption takes away part of their cognitive machinery and they adopt a subtraction mindset.
- Start with a clean slate: In one of our studies, we invited participants to purge their calendars for 48 hours, rate each meeting, and then refill their calendars. Participants saved an average of five hours per month per person. When we asked Adams about this difference, he suggested that the “clean slate” approach encouraged volunteers to slow down and think more deeply about whether meetings were necessary or could be redesigned.
- Use the data to decide what to subtract: We have developed a simple system to help people estimate the value of their meetings. Participants in our research rated each recurring meeting on a three-point numerical scale on two dimensions: the effort required for each meeting (including preparation, actual meeting time, and follow-up work), the value of each meeting to help them achieve their goals, Monday’s meetings were rated as the most valuable. Meetings with titles that included specific projects and team names were also most valuable, while vague “updates” and “coffee talks” were the least valuable.
- Create move: Holding meetings is easier when people do it together. In our research, employees were given the option to participate and encouraged each other to cut and resume meetings while brainstorming ideas to do so. As is the case with any movement, some were enthusiastic, others reluctantly agreed, and still others chose not to join. However, teammates who did not participate also benefited, as their load was also lightened.
- Don’t just reduce meetings, redesign them: In our research, canceling meetings altogether only saved 30% of the time; The remaining 70% came from redesigning the remaining meetings. For example, 27% came from restructuring meetings so that fewer people attend or partially replacing them with asynchronous communication, perhaps with sluggish messages. Meeting more often (17%) and meeting less often (10%) also saved significant amounts of time.
- Clear the way for what matters most: When using the Fixing Meetings playbook, and adopting a mindset of subtraction, don’t try to make everything quick, easy, and frustration-free. The goal is to make time for the things in life that should be slowed down, like pausing to think about your work and taking time to care for yourself and others.
(Rebecca Hinds is director of The Work Innovation Lab by Asana, a think tank that conducts applied research with the goal of helping companies evolve to meet the growing changes and challenges in the workplace. Robert I. Sutton is an organizational is a psychologist and professor of management science and engineering at the Stanford Engineering School.)