Meetings are bad—should we cancel them all?

In early January, Shopify unilaterally canceled all meetings of more than two people, saving a reported 95,000 hours. As is often the case, the specifics tell a slightly different story. They announced that:

  • Staff are required to scrap recurring meetings with more than three people in attendance.
  • There are no meetings on Wednesdays.
  • Any event with an invite list of over 50 people can only be held on Thursdays between 11:00 and 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

Shopify isn’t the only organization that has taken the scorched earth approach to taming the meeting beast. Several high-profile companies (including Meta and Clorox) have banned meetings one day a week.

There is plenty of research that says the number of meetings skyrocketed during the pandemic. Microsoft (using data from their Teams product) found that the number of meetings a week attended by the average user more than doubled from February 2020 to February 2022, while the amount of time spent in meetings more than tripled.

But you likely don’t need research. All you need to do is look at your calendar.

Do you need a meeting policy?

Setting a policy like this is well-intentioned and makes for nice headlines but doesn’t solve the underlying problem. The problem isn’t meetings, it is having meetings that are called for the wrong reasons, have an unclear purpose, and/or have too many people in attendance.

Tough Talks D

Rather than proclaiming a problem and legislating it away (which will only cause other problems, likely unintended), get to the root cause. The root cause of the problem is that meetings often don’t achieve anything or enough to warrant the amount of time invested.

You fix that by:

  • Understanding the purpose of the meeting or the problem the meeting is meant to solve. We call this the desired outcome. Once you have a clear desired outcome, ask yourself: Is a meeting the best way to reach this outcome? (If not, don’t have a meeting. If yes, ask.) Also ask: Who needs to be in attendance for us to reach this outcome?
  • Holding more effective meetings (and trust me, if the desired outcome is clear to everyone, you will have taken a big step forward here).

Consider the desired outcome

When you engage in more effective meetings, you will spend less time in them and stop the madness of meeting multiple times without progress. It will allow for effective collaboration and connection, and will likely reduce the meeting madness.

If you really want a policy, make a stated desired outcome required for any gathering. That will get you fewer headlines but a better outcome. And as a leader somewhere other than the C-suite, you can do this for your meetings. You don’t have to wait for the CEO to act for your meetings to get better.