Scaling a business is a thrilling ride. To build something of magnitude with dozens of employees (perhaps with cool jackets with logos and a yearly retreat) is where every small business wants to go. But for our firm, scale might come with a price paid in flexibility. Scale at the level of the “big kids” might mean we take on investors with high expectations, more complex clients, and the hassles of managing more headcount. In my best-lived life, I want scale. But I also want ease. It’s a simple dichotomy of desiring two things at the same time and consciously choosing the path that makes the most sense.
This pull between two sometimes mutually exclusive desires happens all the time in business, but we often don’t recognize it. One example is the simple dichotomy of inclusion versus efficiency. We want to “generously” include folks in everything—email threads, projects, and especially meetings. However, this elevation of inclusion leads to kindness run amuck where we repeatedly sacrifice efficiency, which in turn makes people miserable. Our good intentions end up hurting us.
Read More: Don’t Confuse Meetings with Collaboration
This reflex to include comes from a lovely host-like impulse, like pulling one more chair around the table. But it has driven our calendars to disastrous levels of overflow, threatening the basic structures that move business forward. We must bring more thoughtfulness to the equation. Leaders and teams who walk the inclusion/efficiency tightrope with ease use the following techniques.
Measure Your Waste
Not the one above your hips, the one within your team. To motivate yourself to embrace more efficiency over inclusion, try putting a dollar amount on your unnecessary meetings. It’s math your eight-year-old can do. Send around a survey asking people how many of their meetings are ones in which they are neither contributing nor benefitting. (Frighteningly, the number is usually around 30 percent.) Then you can translate the percentages reported into minutes, dollars, and cents, following this formula:
Take the minutes per day of wasteful meetings
x the cost of one hour’s salary for an average worker
x the number of your employees
x five days in a week
x fifty business weeks per year
= cost of meeting waste annually
Using a calculation like this for meetings, plus five other categories of workplace waste, we tend to see a million dollars of annual waste per person in our clients’ companies. Doing your own math should hurt just enough to be a catalyst for change.
Let People Opt Out
An invitation is not a subpoena. In communities of trust and efficiency, colleagues accept or decline meeting invites freely. They do what they consider best for the business, and those choices are respected. Everyone is then more engaged because they’ve been given the priceless gift of autonomy. When you decline a meeting yourself, do so after taking a strategic pause and deciding that the meeting will neither add value to your work nor, more importantly, will you add unique value to it. Declining has many subtleties and some hazards, so it’s often smart to engage a buddy to test your plan before enacting it and make sure the respectful language you use to decline will be well received. It’s scary at first and far easier for senior folks, but you can learn to do it, especially if your team is working collectively to rebalance the focus on inclusion and efficiency.
If you’re bored in a meeting, it may be unavoidable—simply part of the job. Or, if you let yourself experience it, boredom may become valuable evidence that you’re in the wrong place at a particular moment. Ask yourself why you are bored. Are you the wrong person to be there? Are you redundant with others in the room? If you’re sitting in a meeting that feels boring—and you abstain from the distraction (and stimulation) of digital multitasking—you will see your situation more clearly, at which point you can begin to plan your response to your next meeting invitation with more care.
Never Let the Colors Touch
Once you are in the right, edited-down number of meetings, you should see more white space (literally) appearing on your calendar. The cardinal rule to follow then is “never let the colors touch.” If the color blocks are all touching in your calendar, you don’t have a single minute to reflect on the meeting before, plan for the meeting to come, or rest to return refreshed. Try for five, 10, or 15 minutes of white space between each and every meeting. In many team cultures, schedules are an open book, and anyone can insert meetings wherever there is space. This is Dante’s version of calendar management, so close off this option where possible.
Keeping these simple fixes in mind, we can stop ourselves and our team members before we return to the familiar groove of choosing inclusion over efficiency (and then complaining about it instead of changing it). We can use these small adjustments to then enjoy our meetings by shining up what they do best: bringing together human beings in a rich, live environment of together-time, making exciting work come true.
This article was also published on Juliet Funt's LinkedIn.
This article is also available in Chinese.
Dear employers, do you want to stay in tune with your employees and their thoughts on how productive their meetings were? You can do so by using techonology like Happily (or Budaya for those from Indonesia). It has amazing analytics and also provides activities for employees to be fully immersed in the organisation's culture.