Taking A Bite Out of Bad Meetings

Google “useless meetings” and you’ll find no shortage of articles (or Dilbert cartoons) highlighting corporate America’s overreliance on meetings and promoting ideas to make meeting more productive.

Enova, like any other organization, struggles with finding the right meeting balance.  I’ve worked at large companies, small companies, and those somewhere in between – the challenge is always the same.  The difference that I’ve witnessed here in my year plus at Enova is that the drive to ensure any and all meetings are efficient and effective comes from the top.  Meetings start and end on time. Smaller meetings are encouraged. Employees at all levels are empowered to decline meetings without an agenda or clear purpose.

Our Senior Leadership created a “Tiger Team” to “take a bite out of bad meetings.”  Pun intended. The team did a lot to formalize good meeting etiquette (e.g., deleting meetings where the organizer had left the company, upgrading our conference room technology, ensuring meeting room size wasn’t too big or too small for the number of attendees). We also empowered people to say “no” to meetings if they didn’t need to attend, or if their attendance was redundant because their team was already represented. “Operate as an owner” is a core value and we want people to use their time wisely. 

The Tiger Team also experimented with more controversial approaches to improve the meeting culture.  As an example, we tried to institute a meeting-free time zone across the entire organization to free people up for independent work time. This didn’t really catch on, as people began to use this time to schedule meetings since everyone knew all calendars were blocked off.  On the other hand, the team identified recurring meetings and pushed the entire organization to delete one recurring meeting from his/her calendar as part of a company-wide reset. This was more successful, as it put the onus on the individual to be smart about the time spent in meetings.  But was that enough?

Enova team members are wired to use data to make decisions and solve problems.  So why should we approach the meeting problem any differently? To that end, the Tiger Team onboarded execution.com, a startup with a mission to squelch ineffective meetings through data and insights.

All employees receive a weekly email highlighting the amount of time they will be spending in meetings each week, which meetings don’t follow basic meeting etiquette (like no agenda), and how much time each individual has for deep work, defined as predefined block of time where someone can focus.  Managers can also see how much time their team members are spending in meetings as a coaching tool if there is a need.

Meetings are not bad in and of themselves.  Some roles require more collaboration than others, and often meetings are the most effective way to collaborate.  But this tool provides awareness and creates and environment where everyone has ownership in driving the culture towards more effective meetings.

Life is Short.  Work Somewhere Awesome.  (Useless meetings are not Awesome.)