Editor's Page

Dec. 21, 2004
Time's up!

I have a suggestion for how to improve teamwork at your company. It won't cost you any money, won't require additional training, and will immediately improve employee morale. Do I have your attention yet? Here it is: Cancel all internal meetings scheduled for longer than 30 minutes. Now. For the rest of the year. Post a notice informing everyone that from now on, the only meetings that can last longer than 30 minutes will be those with customers. I confess I have an aversion to long meetings. In fact, I have a reputation for not being able to sit still for longer than 30 minutes anywhere, including movies and my drive to work. (I'm the guy changing lanes ahead of you as I work my cell phone and Palm V.) But quite apart from my own limited attention span, I've rarely seen a one-hour meeting accomplish more than a 30-minute confab. A meeting scheduled for one and a half hours -- the default length of any meeting without a well-planned agenda in corporate America -- is a clear signal to all attendees that no thinking will be required or completed until everyone is seated at the table. And any meeting scheduled for two hours or more -- especially one labeled "Brainstorming" or "Strategic Planning" -- is a clear invitation for speechmaking and posturing. Your only hope is that the bagels and orange juice hold out longer than Jones from Finance does on "Activity-Based Accounting." Consider what happens, though, when you limit all meetings to 30 minutes or less:

  • First, everyone has to come prepared if there's to be any hope of accomplishing something. This means that real thinking -- the process by which problems are actually solved -- will have to be completed ahead of time, especially by the meeting's leader. A concise, clear agenda will have everyone out the door in 29 minutes and 59 seconds -- or less.
  • Second, a short meeting puts pressure on everyone to focus. Even Jones from Finance will keep an eye on the clock, thinking twice before he drones on about "new vistas in cost control" -- if only to avoid the stares, under-the-table kicks, and undying enmity of his co-workers. Discussion will move quickly and efficiently, with the clock serving as the bad guy instead of the meeting's leader.
  • Finally (and most importantly), a 30-minute meeting allows everyone to return to his or her office or cubicle or car to do real work -- and to connect with customers. Great projects may be accomplished by teams, but great project work is almost always done by individuals who work alone and then bring the fruits of their labor back to the team.
The only way to give your employees time to do great work -- one of the things, by the way, that they want most -- is to cut back on the time they spend listening to all the Joneses who love meetings more than great work itself. Of course, if you're still not convinced, you could delay implementing this policy. Why not call a meeting? Send e-mail messages to John Brandt at [email protected]

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