A lot has been written over the past decade about the many problems with meetings in the workplace—they keep people from completing their actual work, kill creativity, and force people to work late at night simply to have the opportunity to work uninterrupted. Meetings also increase the likelihood of people committing errors in their work.
And yet, despite all of the data and a wave of new collaboration and communication tools, little has changed in the last 10 years. But now, more than ever, companies have the collaborative tools needed to move away from a meetings-for-meeting-sake culture and embrace the no-meeting way.
An (almost) no-meeting policy
Of course, the obvious objection when discussing a no-meeting policy at companies is how can teams possibly collaborate without meetings? Collaboration is essential to every role at a company. The problem is that meetings are too often confused with true collaboration and frequently get in the way of it.
Companies that develop a no-meeting culture can be more collaborative, more productive, and more creative if they follow three guiding principles: the buddy system, a ban on pre-scheduled internal meetings, and consistent weekly touchpoints.
Create a buddy system
One of the ways to prevent meeting overload is to thoughtfully organize around micro-teams of two to four people based on specific tasks or initiatives rather than assigning something to a large group of departments. A buddy system starts with your team members’ first day and extends into their day-to-day work. By shifting to micro-groups, or buddies, ideas are iterated and improved rapidly; there is no unwanted overhead or design by committee.
For engineers, the buddy system means you have a designated code-review partner to keep things moving. On the business and product sides, buddies pair on strategy docs, product wireframes, marketing copy, blog post drafts, etc. It’s easy to think you’re wasting time having at least two people tackle every task, but the opposite is true: quality is much higher, each project moves at a faster pace, and of course, it takes fewer painful meetings to get there.
Ban pre-scheduled internal meetings
Weekly leadership check-ins, daily syncs, and even group or department meetings: go ahead and ban them all. That doesn’t mean that teams shouldn’t or won’t meet, but rather than meetings driving the schedule for the day, teams now have open time to get work done. It flips the typical workday entirely on its head, allowing work to drive priorities, not a packed schedule.
Work mostly happens asynchronously with shared documents and tools (for example, through Google Docs). When issues arise or there is a need to sync live, individuals or teams can be pulled into a quick chat. Getting people together is easy because there isn’t a wall of meetings to contend with.
Set up a weekly cadence
Here is where the three meetings a week come in. It’s important to have regular touchpoints with the entire company to share major company updates and set goals, share progress, and highlight what worked and what didn’t each week. Ideally, this meeting happens Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and follows a specific script to guide employees and keep the topic focused for each meeting.
Monday meetings are a kickoff that set the stage for the week and a chance for teams to review their goals and priorities across the company. Wednesdays are check-ins; these meetings are typically shorter and focused entirely on what is working and what isn’t so that goals can either be adjusted or teams can rebalance to add support where it’s needed. Finally, Fridays are for showing off and celebrating the results for the week.
The consistency of this cadence helps keep your teams focused and also ensures that everyone knows what to expect, what to prepare for, and that there will be some accountability to show what was accomplished each week. It also creates a more natural feedback loop for teams to share when they are stuck on a problem or need to bring in other teams for support.
The other benefit of this weekly cadence is that these meetings are collaborative in nature and don’t need to be driven by just the leaders of the company. You might have each team member across the company take turns leading the meetings each week, which is how we operate at my company.
Fewer meetings mean more flow time
Beyond all of the data mentioned at the top, why is it worth investing in a no-meeting culture?
Without a day clogged with meetings, individuals and teams have the opportunity to focus and reach a mental state referred to as flow. Flow is described by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as a state of complete immersion in an activity, and it can have a huge impact on productivity and happiness at work. A recent McKinsey study of more than 5,000 executives about flow found that it increased productivity by five times.
Don’t be tempted to ease into this process with a no-meeting Tuesday or just suggesting teams do fewer meetings. For this to work, it requires companies to commit fully. Pick a date, and cancel all internal meetings going forward.
Jeff Seibert is an entrepreneur, who has created products acquired by Google, Twitter, and Box. Jeff has invested in more than 60 startups and appears in the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. His newest company, Digits, aims to revolutionize business finance.