Lindsey Wasson/Associated Press
- Baseball’s new season is underway with a pitch clock to speed up games.
- That got us thinking about other sleepy pastimes in need of livening up, specifically meetings.
- If new rules can improve game speed, surely bosses can make meetings run more efficiently.
Baseball, arguably America’s sleepiest sport, began its new season last week with changes designed to speed up games and inject more action. Amen.
Don’t get us wrong: We happen to enjoy baseball and all its kooky charm. But with an average length of three hours and four minutes, the ballgame gets a little, shall we say, dull. So far, though, a new pitch clock appears to be working: The average length of games in the first four days of this season was two hours and 38 minutes.
This progress got us thinking about other snoozy American pastimes in need of enlivening. First on our list: meetings.
In a survey of 632 employees in more than 20 industries conducted last summer by Steven Rogelberg, a professor of organizational science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, workers reported spending 18 hours a week on average in meetings. They suggested roughly a third of those meetings were a waste of their time.
If Major League Baseball can speed up games, surely bosses can make meetings more efficient, right?
It’s an opportune moment to be asking that question, according to Rogelberg, the author of “The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance.”
He said MLB’s willingness to experiment with new rules for an old game ought to be an inspiration to managers. “So much of what we do at work is out of habit, but every so often we need to reflect and ask: Is this working for us?” he said.
His research suggests it isn’t. An analysis of the survey estimated that attending unnecessary meetings cost companies about $25,000 per employee annually and that an organization of 5,000 employees might be wasting about $101 million a year on meetings.
“As we move into this new post-pandemic world, managers need to be intentional about meetings, think differently about agendas, and ask for feedback about how to make them better,” he said.
Figure out what to subtract — be it time or chairs
When people are faced with a problem, their natural response is to solve it by adding things rather than subtracting them, according to Robert Sutton, an organizational psychologist at Stanford University. “We do this with Legos, with recipes, and with meetings,” he told Insider.
But removal is often a better bet. “If you have a situation where things are too slow, too complicated, or too boring, seek out constraints that encourage subtraction,” Sutton said.
That is, in essence, what MLB is doing with the pitch clock: Pitchers now have 15 seconds to start their motion with the bases empty and 20 seconds with a runner on. And they may make only two pick-off attempts per at-bat to keep runners close to their bases.
Try, for instance, forcing yourself to cut meetings by half: Your weekly meeting becomes an every-other-week meeting; your hourlong meetings become 30-minutes ones. Or try inserting some friction: Remove chairs from your conference rooms so that people have to stand, or limit how long attendees are allowed to talk.
“There might be times when it’s better to go slower, but you’re getting rid of the exceptions,” Sutton said.
Be ruthless about the guest list
Subtraction is a starting point. Rogelberg said you should also think about how meetings are run and who’s invited.
“Anyone scheduling a meeting is in a position of power,” he said. “So you need to act with intentionality in figuring out who needs to be there, how long it needs to last, and what needs to happen.”
Remember Parkinson’s law: Work expands to fit whatever time is allotted for it. Allocating 45 minutes for a meeting ensures it will take precisely that long. But you can use this to your advantage by scheduling a shorter meeting.
Rogelberg recommended drafting a meeting agenda without generic topics but with “questions to be answered” — he said that framing success as answers can help you know whether the meeting achieves its goals.
Ask for advice
Just as MLB needs to consider the fan experience of being at the ballpark or watching a game on TV, bosses need to think about their workers’ experiences in meetings, Rogelberg said.
That’s why one of the best ways to improve your meetings is to ask the people attending for feedback. “When they have bad experiences in meetings, it has negative consequences for you as their manager,” Rogelberg said.
“Instead of putting people in hours of meetings without ever asking them about what they’re accomplishing, you need to engage,” he said.