Creating a Meetingless Workplace

A few years back, I read Rework by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried of Basecamp. It instantly became one of my favorite business books because it flipped most conventional wisdom on its head. The back cover of their book lists some of their new wisdom:

Rework Back Cover

Basecamp, as a company, builds project management software that exists to make other businesses more efficient. Thus, it’s not surprising that much of Hansson and Fried’s advice is geared toward maximizing efficiency. The curious thing, though, is that businesses aren’t efficient in the first place: they absolutely should be. Some business philosophers posit that firms exist based on an “efficiency mandate”; that is, they are meant to expedite the decision-making process that would otherwise come up in “the market” (where buyers and sellers must negotiate to reach an agreement).

However, many businesses impose convoluted bureaucracies that actually decrease efficiency. One of the main drivers of this inefficiency is some teams’ constant need for meetings. As stated in Rework, “meetings are toxic”: “Meetings usually arise when a concept isn’t clear enough. Instead of resorting to a meeting, try to simplify the concept so you can discuss it quickly via email or im … Every minute you avoid spending in a meeting is a minute you can get real work done instead.”

An 8-person, 1-hour meeting doesn’t waste one hour, it wastes 8 labor-hours, which is actually a pretty significant amount of time. Here are some reasons that meetings actually increase inefficiency:

  • They break your work day into small, incoherent pieces that disrupt your natural workflow
  • They’re usually about words and abstract concepts, not real things (like a piece of code or some interface design)
  • They usually convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute
  • They often contain at least one moron that inevitably gets his turn to waste everyone’s time with nonsense
  • They drift off-subject easier than a Chicago cab in heavy snow
  • They require thorough preparation that people rarely do anyway

[all of the above are quotes from Hansson and Heinemeier.]

Go Meetingless

Jumping off the teamwork efficiency framework I created a few weeks back, I wanted to specifically solve for the collaborative friction element. To that end, I’ve built a workflow for a meetingless workplace.

First, managers must have a plan. They need to keep project goals top of mind, and ensure that all team members are on the same page regarding those goals. Reaching goals effectively requires that every team member knows what needs to be done and how best to do it.

Trello Example

To that end, managers must create detailed workplans using project management software like Trello or Basecamp. Each task should have a detailed indication of what needs to be done, by which date, and for whom. The what / when / who method prevents managers from micromanaging employees and gives employees all the information they need to produce quality work on time. Team members should be told to step up and take tasks out of the task pool if possible.

With the above methods, meetings are no longer required to set project strategy. Next, team members should be able to collaborate freely. This could be enabled through software like Microsoft Office 365, which would allow people to edit the same PowerPoint, Excel model, or Word report simultaneously. This would decrease the need for teammates to pass files back and forth, which introduces long waiting periods and the potential for improper version control. Live chat via Slack and phone calls could resolve bigger issues without necessitating facetime.

If necessary, teams could set up standing meetings for 15-30 minutes. When people stand, their physical discomfort forces meetings to be kept short. This ensures that all of the extraneous fluff will be kept out of the meeting.

Finally, teams need to be able to see and celebrate their results regularly. This sets expectations for the future and enables teammates to bond in person and decompress. By celebrating accomplishments, even small ones, people know that their work is being seen and are then motivated to continue working hard.

By creating a meetingless workplace where collaborative friction is minimized, teams can work together much more quickly. This will lead to faster project completion, quicker time to revenue, and other positive effects.

Also published on Medium.

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