Here’s Why You Should Avoid Calling a Meeting 98% Of The Time (And What To Do Instead)

Avoid calling a meeting 98% of the time

Sigh.

That’s the default reply when anyone schedules a meeting.

Why? Because in almost all cases, they’re a time suck. And as companies get bigger and more complex, there’s a tendency to rely on meetings as a means of increasing communication and transparency. But in my opinion, you can and should avoid calling a meeting 98% of the time.

Unfortunately, once your team grows past a certain size, meetings have a way of creeping into the culture. And once they’re in, they’re impossible to get rid of. Meetings create bureaucratic, slow-moving, slow-thinking organizations. And for a hypergrowth company like Drift, that’s deadly.

What’s more is that companies with an ingrained culture of meetings attract employees that – no other way to put it – love to meet. And those people over time end up having a louder voice in the company because they’re running the meetings and setting the agenda. But it’s the people closest to the customer who should be setting the agenda for the whole company.

So when you are thinking of calling a meeting, question whether or not you and the people you plan to involve can do without it. And as an invitee, you should feel empowered to push back if you don’t think it’s a good use of your time. Frankly, take command of your time and excuse yourself from a meeting if it’s not useful. Go ahead – decline that invite.

For the 2% of the time where a meeting is absolutely necessary, you need to make sure every single participant in that meeting is getting the most out of it. And to do that, we’ve developed our own framework for effective meetings:

The Drift Framework for Effective Meetings

  1. When you do have a meeting, be sure to keep them small and focused on a clear agenda. Unless the meeting is a 1:1 with a manager or direct report, you should clearly outline the questions you’re trying to answer and the problems you’re hoping to solve.
  1. Respect your colleagues. Avoid sidebars and put away laptops and phones. Unless you’re presenting, there’s absolutely no need to have your computer open or your phone out. If the meeting is so slow moving you feel the need to jump on Slack or work on something else, you probably shouldn’t be in that meeting in the first place.
  1. Make your meetings small. If you do want to share the information with others, they don’t necessarily need to be in the initial meeting. Put your meeting notes on your intranet for the company to see.
  1. Either participate or excuse yourself. If you’re not adding value or could spend your time better doing anything else, politely excuse yourself from the meeting…with one exception – company all-hands.

Even the Largest Companies Take a Stand Against Meeting Culture

I realize I’m a bit militant on the subject of no meetings, but I’m not alone. Companies like Atlassian, Amazon and Google have all implemented policies to minimize the number of meetings held and/or have written frameworks on how to conduct meetings that are actually effective.

Take Atlassian’s guide for running effective meetings. They put together a simple flow chart to get the point across.

Atlassian meeting flowchart

Source: Atlassian – Running Effective Meetings: A Guide for Humans.

Jeff Bezos is famously stringent about meetings across Amazon. For him, he keeps them small, bans PowerPoint and other presentations, and each meeting starts in silence – while the group reads through a memo on why the meeting is taking place. And these memos are sometimes 6 pages. They’re full of actual information – not bullet points, but true narratives on the problem to be solved or idea to be executed.

For Google Chair Eric Schmidt, establishing clearly defined roles is key to running efficient meetings. All meetings must have a designated leader who serves as the key decision maker for that specific project or initiative. This leader has the final say and helps guarantee the meeting has a productive outcome.

Seek Feedback, Not Consensus.

My feelings on meetings are so strong that we’ve worked them into the very rules we govern ourselves by – our Leadership Principles. In particular, we’ve learned that big meetings are usually where consensus thinking creeps in, and that’s something we strive to avoid.

We seek feedback to get to the best idea, not to create agreement or consensus. We believe consensus creates average ideas, average speed, and average results. We don’t vote on ideas or decisions. The best idea will never sound like the best idea to everyone, so we let our customers validate our decisions. The customers’ vote will always be more vital to the business than the committees’.

So, how do you put this into effect?

Decide. Be decisive and commit to a course of action, this is at the core of our Leadership Principles: A bias for action, and extreme ownership. You have to decide on the right course of action that will have the most significant impact on your customers’ experience. If you wait to get your team to consensus, you’ll miss an opportunity to serve and delight your customer.

Observe: Pay close attention to how your customer responds to the changes you’ve made. Ultimately, they are your barometer and will always give you the most authentic, unvarnished feedback about the changes you’ve implemented. 

Adjust. After testing your hypothesis with your customers, be ready to shift your approach. If they respond well, congratulations, pat on the back and onward. If they aren’t so happy with it, listen to them and incorporate their feedback into the next iteration of your strategy/program/effort.

Remember the Mission

At the end of the day, remember why you come to work each day. It all comes down to the customer. If you focus on what is most important to the customer, it will be easier to keep your meetings short, efficient and effective. So, make sure the meetings you do have are laser-focused on the customer and produce outcomes that create value for them. Then cancel the rest.

Related Stories

P.S. Join 30,000 of your peers. Subscribe to the newsletter for hypergrowth.

Every Sunday evening we'll send you a roundup of the best content and events from Drift and around the web. Make sure you're ready for the week! Subscribe now.

Subscribe Here