Early-stage companies place a lot of demands on an employee’s time. From building the product to marketing for new customers to getting the capital lined up, it’s a never-ending struggle to fit all that work into a limited amount of time. But as is often the case, productivity is being pressured by budding entrepreneurs who schedule far too many meetings, leaving employees with not enough time to do their actual work. And when productivity slows, bottom line suffers and employees look for the door in frustration. Let me explain further.
Why so many meetings are scheduled
There are many reasons to schedule an appointment. Some are recurring meetings between bosses and their direct reporting employees, for weekly check-ins and team collaboration needs. Some are one-off meetings for one-off items, such as annual strategic planning, putting out a customer fire, or team building events. But most get done because entrepreneurs are inexperienced and don’t know any better. This is largely due to the fact that they don’t trust the team to do their job or have to control every decision they make. It is this last category that is the killer.
The negative impact on employees
Employees get frustrated when a few things happen around meetings. First, they think it’s a waste of time and don’t even know why they’re needed in the room (so don’t invite everyone to every single meeting, only invite those who really need to be there). Second, they get frustrated because they’re in a meeting and not at their desks to get their actual work done in a more timely manner (so maximize their time at their desk, not yours). Or, third, they feel insulted that they are not trusted to do their job, by a boss who feels they must closely monitor all decisions (so you give people the power to make decisions without you). All of this is a recipe for disaster, with employees often looking for the exit, where the resulting staff turnover can be crippling for a young company that needs to race ahead at full throttle as quickly as possible.
A CMO once started working as an interim executive for a new client and was given a team of people to manage. On his first day, he was given a calendar with all the weekly meetings that he and his team had to attend. He looked at the long list and realized that about 40% of his time was in meetings, many of which he considered unnecessary, a legacy process from a previous manager. He didn’t have two days a week to lose to do his job.
So he got the team together and asked what each of the meetings was trying to accomplish, and they agreed they didn’t need that many, and merged many of the meetings into one. And he asked each of the employees to look at their own personal schedules and avoid unnecessary meetings. One of those individuals said they were included in meetings that took up as much as 80% of his time per week. The CMO asked how he got any work done? The employee said he didn’t! !
The employee said it was mandatory that he attend those meetings and that he had no choice. To which the CMO replied that he should reduce his meeting time to a maximum of 20% of his time, losing 75% of his meetings. The employee turned white as a ghost and said that was impossible. The CMO dug in and said it was not only possible, but needed by the end of the week. After a lot of rethinking his time, the employee prioritized only the most important meetings, reduced his meeting burden to target, and started getting his own work done, undoing years of complaints that he was the bottleneck for others to to get their job done.
How many meetings should be scheduled?
As a suggestion, try to limit your recurring weekly meetings to 20% of your time. One one-on-one meeting with each of your direct reports, one meeting with the person you lead, one meeting with the people you lead as a group, and one meeting with your colleagues to collaborate on needs across departments. That leaves plenty of other time for the one-off meetings that happen during the normal course of business, again that need to be capped within this 20% window. This keeps you working efficiently on the most important work that needs to be done and ensures that your team continues to work efficiently on their most important work. And when people start checking projects off their to-do lists, they feel fulfilled, the business moves forward and there is a healthy atmosphere in the office.
Flat organizations thrive best
So, as a call to all entrepreneurs out there, don’t choke the life out of your businesses with too many meetings. Hire smart people, trust them to do their job, and get out of the way so they can do the work they were hired to do. You don’t have to micro-manage every single decision. Empower your team to make their own decisions in a flat organizational structure. Even if they make mistakes, that’s fine, they will learn from them. But the team will go twice as fast to get things done than if they were burdened with a lot of meetings. And as we know, speed is important in startups.
Challenge yourself and every employee in your company to limit their recurring weekly meetings to 20% of their time. That’s one day a week, or 8 hours on a normal workday. That’s a maximum of 16 30-minute meetings that they can schedule, so plenty of slots to work with. Yes, I said thirty minutes, efficient meetings don’t have to take longer. So that means coming to the organized meetings with a firm expectation of how they will be organized each week. And if there’s nothing new to report this week, there’s nothing wrong with canceling meetings. Give your team the flexibility to only hold meetings they think are absolutely necessary.
As you can probably see, I’m not a fan of scheduling too many meetings. It often leads to combating issues such as analysis paralysis, governance by committee, micromanagement, dissatisfied employees and a general loss of business productivity. So instead, take more of a hands-off role in managing your team, put your business in the next gear and start removing all those unnecessary meetings from everyone’s agenda. You will be shocked how much more work will actually be done!!