Freaky Meetings

Last Fall, before one of my workouts, I queued a podcast episode from Freakonomics titled How to make Meetings Less Terrible. I was a bit skeptical about this one because I’ve read dozens of articles about meetings and what else is there to say? But the Freakonomics staff is good at producing engaging and informative content and I needed something to get me through 6 miles.

How we spend our time…

In the interview, Steven Rogelberg says most professionals attend approximately 15 meetings a week. I almost stopped running to replay-it to make sure I heard it right because I knew I was well above 15 meetings a week. That’s 3 meetings a day and now I wonder why we aren’t talking more about a scheduling capacity for workers at 60% of the work week.  I confirmed I’m sitting north of the average as I attended 43 meetings last week and it was a typical week. 

Rogelberg also commented on the average length of a meeting,

“Magically, the average length across the world is one hour. And there’s just no reason for that. This is a modern phenomenon that has emerged due to calendaring programs like Outlook and Google Calendar.” 

Steven Rogelberg

I should note, after reading this I went and updated a few of my recurring meetings to 30 minutes and have since maintained diligence to start and end on-time. Others in my organization are following this rule of thumb as well. Of my 43 meetings last week, 35 of them were scheduled for 30 minutes. (Which is a little over 60% of the standard business hour work week!)

In my experience, the number of weekly meetings I attend has grown over the years. Certainly, this is somewhat related to moving into managerial positions.  But I believe much of the increase is related to two factors in the modern workplace:

1. Geographic separation of teams – with many project team members connected by technology, there is an increased need to have face-to-face time for collaboration and discussion. 

2. Decentralization of decision-making ownership – modern workers are taught and encouraged to gather input and make decisions by consensus. This translates into more in-person meetings. 

Back to the podcast. One of the ideas discussed was how to reduce the number of people at meetings and only invite those who need to be involved. Rogelberg advises,

“So when you are thinking about your agenda, consider framing it not as topics to be discussed, but consider framing it as questions to be answered. By framing it as questions to be answered it’s easier to determine who needs to be there because they’re relevant to the questions.” 

Steven Rogelberg

The emphasis is on the meeting organizer to plan better and only ask team members there that will participate in answering the open questions. That’s an interesting suggestion, because most meetings I attend, including those I organize, have meeting agendas with a bullet list of objectives or topics. 

Let’s call these two pieces of meeting wisdom ‘Freaky Meetings’ to build from Freakonomics but to also show they counter modern meeting behavior. Will you try it with me? Go shorten some of your meeting durations and adjust the agenda into a set of questions to be answered. 

Look at your calendar last week. Comment in this post with the number of meetings you attended. Let’s see how we stack-up to the average. 

Onward and upward.

Photo credit: Lucas Serazzi via Creative Commons