It's Monday morning. You check your calendar and see that you're already late for your first meeting. The rest of the day is back-to-back meetings. Some are scheduled for an hour, the others are half an hour. Then, something flashes through your head like a nightmare. You think of all the days you've spent sitting through one laborious, semi-productive meeting after another. And you wonder, "who ever decided that meetings should be an hour, or half an hour?"
In a recent article by Journalist Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal, she spoke with a number of executives about a different approach to meetings.
Aaron Shapiro is CEO of Huge, Inc., a 1,500 employee digital agency in New York. He started holding five-minute meetings. Instead of booking a conference room for half an hour, he makes minor decisions in five minutes with small groups of people. If an employee asks to meet with him personally, he'll do a desk-side "drive-by".
Known for being "politely blunt", he has no problem cutting people short when they ramble on.
"It's often shocking when people first come to Huge," he says.
When Jason Schlossberg joined Huge, he was surprised when Mr. Shapiro cut him off and said he understood and told him to move on. "I had four more anecdotes to prove my point", Mr. Schlossberg thought at the time.
Now he chooses his words more carefully.
Mr. Shapiro is a pioneer in the war against bloviation in meetings. Weary of long, inefficient meetings, some employers are forcing minor decision-making efforts into only a few minutes. Some industries like marketing, e-commerce and advertising have adopted the agile management techniques used by tech companies and are doing more brief daily check-ins.
That means the tools of traditional workplace routines are out. Long-winded PowerPoints are out. There's no time for small talk, and there's little room for 30 or 60 minute meetings when 15 minutes is enough.
Participants are then forced to convert their formal conference room presentation to an elevator pitch.
Chris Parker is a managing partner at Scrum50, a South Norwalk, Connecticut digital marketing company. He says they start meetings on time and finish some in as little as four to six minutes. "If you're five or six minutes late, you missed it," he says.
Jack Skeels is CEO of Agency-Agile, an LA management-training firm. His firm employs the "three-bounce rule." After three back-and-forth exchanges between two people, the topic is deferred to a separate meeting. Others use the "so-that" technique (Any update must include a description of the impact on others). Such as, "I finished my work on that project so that Bob can put the finishing touches on it in time for the client meeting."
Lindsay West is CEO of Track1099, maker of tax-filing software. She says there's no time to worry about her image on the five minute video meetings she has with her employees. "That's one of the beauties of five-minute meetings: They're so fast nobody is really assessing how your hair looks."
At Boston software developer 121Nexus, Chief Executive Charlie Kim holds five-minute meetings he jokingly calls "lightning meetings." According to Mr. Kim, a lightning meeting "has energy, it has action, people are shocked by it and everything about it truly moves".
Project manager Alexandra Roth was drawn into a long conversation with a co-worker at her employer, Fingerprint Marketing, but Jennifer McKenna hit play on music she has queued up on her laptop that sounds like the music they play on the Oscars when it's time for winners to stop talking and leave the stage. Ms. Roth says, "I was like, 'OK, yeah, we're done with this conversation.' I was wasting seven other people's time."
Obviously, the shorter the meeting, the better. Many meetings become opportunities for social bonding and chitchat instead of venues for the efficient transfer of information. And equally obviously is that not everything can be dispatched effectively in short time bursts. But, when a meeting is over, it's over. Even if it takes music to cue the end.