There isn’t one right way to “meet” in the Future of Work, just as their isn’t one right way to do most things. As a general rule, however, we believe the less meetings, the better. And the meetings you do have should be productive. Nothing crazy, right?
Right. But then why are meetings such a hot button topic? Why do people write blogs on this subject? We think about it like this:
If aliens secretly watched a large corporation for a few weeks, the alien definition of human work would be: A place you go to have meetings.
Why? It’s probably a simple explanation: Work, post World War II, was established as something you did five days a week between the hours of 9 to 5. Fast forward a few decades and the internet and subsequent digital revolution have likely increased productivity by a few orders of magnitude. That should mean less work! But since companies haven’t changed the five days a week thing, people need to fill their day. People can only send GIFs over Slack for so long before alarming their manager. And employees can only gossip for so long at the water cooler. So, meetings are a way to prove to yourself and others that you are “being productive.”
Insane, right? We think it gets even more insane. Where this whole meetings thing gets really crazy, is when meetings become more of a waste of time than letting employees just mindlessly browse their Instagram. We’ve all sat in some meetings where people talk, just so their manager hears them speak. Or people who talk over each other in meetings. Or people who have to come up with an answer in a meeting just because they are in the meeting. All those comments: just a waste of everyone’s time.
What about the meetings where nothing gets accomplished because the leader of the meeting needs to abruptly leave to get to another meeting?! Then another meeting needs to be scheduled. So nothing was accomplished at the first meeting!
We’re starting to think those aliens would lose any interest in alerting us to their presence.
Here’s how we see it: Meetings are time away from accomplishing role accountabilities. If what people are working on is transparent, a meeting to discuss something people can look up isn’t necessary. A boring and unproductive meeting over video chat can morph into people browsing the web while pretending to stay interested in the conversation.
So, how does Team Sobol do meetings? We’re big fans of the daily stand-up. We’re mostly remote, so it’s nice to see everyone’s face once a day. Sometimes this stand-up lasts five minutes and involves questions like: Does anyone need help getting unblocked? Is anyone unable to meet their role commitments? Does anyone have any questions about…?
Sound easy? It usually is, but we still fell trap to meeting fallacies. That stand-up slowly morphed into a, “Here’s what I did today,” joke of a meeting until we self corrected. Why is that bad? Well first, I can look at your calendar to see what you did today if I’m really interested. But what we’re really interested in is your role accountabilities and the stand-up is a time to ask if you need help with that. We trust everybody to accomplish their role accountabilities, not have them read a list of people they talked with over the course of the day.
As a result, we’ve come to realize that meetings must have a written purpose and they need to be facilitated. They should end early if nothing else needs to be said.
That doesn’t mean meetings should lose the Be Humanistic part of the Future of Work. We use our hour-long end of week retro to check-in with each other and joke. We share gratitude and bring up tensions. Staying human is an important part of our meetings, and valuable towards building team camaraderie. We see the team as not just a group of co-workers, but a group of people working together to build something valuable.