How Do Innovative Companies Run Their Meetings?
How much do unproductive meetings cost? The corresponding numbers are quite staggering—approximately 11 million meetings happen in the US every day, and employees lose approximately four work days each month due to unproductive meetings. So what can some of the best run companies teach us about effectively running meetings?
Meetings run by Steve Jobs at Apple were characterized by the fact that he made sure someone was responsible for each item on the agenda. This was an extension of a model called Directly Responsible Individual (DRI), which was intended to bring an accountability mindset to meetings. Having DRIs for each agenda item ensures that there is never confusion about who is responsible for each item, and each DRI takes care of items with a high degree of accountability. Apple also keeps meetings as small as possible and is ruthless about closing meetings after their purpose has been met.
Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos can't stand social cohesion in his company's environment. Social cohesion is the tendency of people to agree with others in order to reach a comfortable consensus. One of Amazon's leadership principles states:
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
Bezos' meetings are governed by having a healthy disagreement followed by complete commitment of the chosen decision. In one of his earlier interviews, Bezos noted that presentations are easy for the presenter and hard for the audience. He discourages the use of PowerPoint presentations and governs his own meetings around a fixed-length memo written by the participants. He also says that, “When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences, complete paragraphs it forces a deeper clarity.”
Google seems to have a similar philosophy about the use of PowerPoint presentations in their meetings. In their book How Google Works, Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg reveal:
Most conference rooms at Google have two projectors. One of them is for videoconferencing with other offices or for projecting meeting notes. The other one is for data. When discussing options and opinions, we start meetings with data. We don't seek to convince by saying 'I think'. We convince by saying 'Let me show you.' A bias toward data is a great way to kill the death-by-powerpoint syndrome. How many meetings have you been in where the first dozen or so slides are full of words, and the person stands up there and repeats the words?
Meetings are an important mechanism for collaborating and driving results in an organization. The way meeting time is utilized impacts everyone from a project manager to a CEO. While these high-profile companies embrace agenda accountability, avoidance of social cohesion, and a focus toward data and clarity, what are your best practices for conducting meetings?