A few weeks ago, the general manager of the Security and Collaboration business units at Cisco wrote:
We live in a world where we are in an illusion of being productive because we are busy with activity.
In fact, our brains have gotten so conditioned to back to back meetings that so many people tell me they feel lost when there is a break. People experience guilt because it subconsciously feels like we are not working when we aren’t in meetings.
Being intentional with our time is such an underrated superpower! I wish I did it more.
The idea that activity ≠ productivity is spot on. The message of "Be intentional with your time—you don't have to be in meetings to be productive." is also valid. But there are other reasons why we feel like we need to be in meetings. I was compelled to respond:
I think a huge contributing factor to this behavior is a company culture that rewards being in meetings!
If important decisions are only made in meetings, if exposure and clout are accumulated primarily in meetings with important people, if critical business context is only shared in meetings, then one's success hinges significantly on being in more meetings.
My best idea for this is to instill a culture of writing (some examples that come to mind are Amazon, Stripe, and HashiCorp). Writing clarifies thinking and allows better ideas to shine rather than charisma. Making decisions asynchronously through writing is more inclusive. It allows you to scale your company's knowledge.
And this kind of change only works top-down ;)
I know Jeetu is speaking from his personal perspective, and what can feel like a different world—a world inhabited by VCs, executives, administrative assistants and contained in airplane lounges, board rooms, and corner offices. At the same time, if there was ever a case when I was in the same context as an executive of a Fortune 100 company, it's this one!
Perhaps the first step on the path to less meetings begins with the leader being intentional about not being in so many meetings. But if that "superpower" is to be at all bestowed on the broader organization, there must be a subsequent intentionality to foster a culture where people's careers are not so dependent on being in meetings.
My idea to shift this power dynamic is through making information more accessible. While understanding and embracing a company's vision is critical, equally important is having the information and data to make the right decisions. So often, that context is provided in meetings, as are decisions.
I've been enamored with company cultures that value writing. Some that I have read and studied:
Each of these companies approach it in a different way, but the one commonality is the motivation to empower individuals and teams to do their best work.
How does this culture change happen? I think it must be primarily top-down because that's the direction the information and context needs to flow. Until that happens, I will continue to attend meetings with intention and reluctance.