In Defense of Longer Meetings

90% of business meetings are unnecessary. You know that, right?

The quality of conversation that occurs does not warrant the time allotted for the meeting. Purposeful conversation will not happen. A click of the SEND button to disburse updates would have done the trick.

So we shorten meetings. Have morning huddles. 15-minutes check-ins. Standing meetings. Walking meetings.

Well-intentioned efforts to lessen the pain. But here’s the real price we pay.

Every time we engage in another redundant social exchange, we accelerate a slow death. Second by futile second, we kill the spirit of everyone who is present. We destroy creativity, initiative, optimism. We extinguish the fire that fuels exceptional conversation and work.

Meetings are the linchpin of everything. Of someone says you have an hour to investigate a company, I wouldn’t look at the balance sheet. I’d watch their executive team in a meeting for an hour." ~ Patrick Lencioni, “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team”

I attended a strategy planning session a couple of months ago. In-person, in that lull between the Delta and Omicron waves. Ted, the GM of the firm, kicked it off with a series of research slides. They droned on. And on and on. Until Lyn spoke.

I know you have carefully planned this session, Ted! Lyn said softly but firmly. But you’re losing me. I am feeling the energy die in this room. Can we open up the conversation?

Her words matched my sentiments. It took Lyn to say them. What interests me are all the reasons we all invent for NOT speaking up as Lyn did. Our internal mind police as we witness the collective energy drain:

  • I don’t want to be the one who always rescues the team.
  • I don’t want to be attacked for my opinion.
  • I don’t want to create tension in the group.
  • It is futile to speak up.
  • I don’t feel safe speaking up.

Lyn broke the code. She didn’t stay complicit. Her comment stopped the slow death. The moment she finished, others spoke up. Surprising ideas were shared. The energy in the meeting began to crackle.

Lyn’s words made me think of an article by David Komlos and David Benjamin in The Wall Street Journal that I saved, a few years back. In In Defense of Long, Large, Unfocused Meetings. Really. (WSJ, 11/27/2019), Komlos and Bajamin challenge the prevalent wisdom that a tight agenda coupled with a high degree of efficiency are the panacea to more effective meetings.

When complex matters need to be discussed – such as business strategy in the meeting that Lyn attended, or ambitious new business goals or perhaps a business merger – short and efficient won’t cut it. Komlos and Benjamin argue compellingly against “faster is better at all cost.”

3 Essential Meeting Tips

Bring lots of people to the table.

When you want to tackle “big stuff,” don’t limit the discussion to a few key stakeholders. Invite folks with different thinking styles, demographics, specialty knowledge, place in the company hierarchy to help address substantive concerns.

This mindset will yield a very different group than you might normally invite. It will also yield decisions that may be very different than those made by a small, homogenous Executive Committee. You know – the sort of decision that other are supposed to “cascade down” but is invariably sabotaged at different stages of the execution game?

Meet for as long as you need.

This may sound radical. Time-wasteful. Impossible. Well, here’s the crux of it.

When we look to have a substantive discussion, let’s not box it into a 60-minute or 90-minute slot. We will spend the meeting time running down the clock. Be realistic about how long it may take. Allow for half a day or a day. You may not need or use the entire time. But you have already sent a signal that says we won’t rush and we’re willing to go deep. We actually want to have a meeting.

Don’t set an agenda.

Know the purpose of your meeting, YES. But don’t tell people in advance HOW they should discuss the matter at hand.

When we pre-box every minute of a meeting, we’re already trying to rig the outcome. A preset agenda constrains thinking and predetermines results. Instead, take the first 10% of your meeting time to create the agenda, together. Let those present brainstorm on what they think matters most. This will greatly increase their engagement during the remaining 90%.

Each meeting is different, and each meeting happens for a different purpose. Not each meeting tackles complex issues. Understood.

But next time you organize a meeting OR sit in a meeting, contemplate the following questions: What level of engagement do I want in this meeting? What is the energy in this meeting right now? To what extent am I complicit in any spirit-killing-conversation? What, if anything, can I do to be less complicit?

Consider these questions. Remember my friend Lyn. And act.

Because complicity sucks for everyone involved.

Related: 4 Reasons Why You May Wanna SHUT Up