2014: The Year We Confronted the Meeting Menace

Q: What has the potential power to kill Barbie, cost billions, and cripple teams?

A: Bad meetings

We have met the enemy and it is us. The secret is out -- we're wasting hundreds of hours and millions of dollars in pointless meetings across organizations both big and small. This is not new information. In fact, some of the most often quoted statistics about meetings are from Alec Mackenzie's seminal book, The Time Trap, published in 1972."

Yet, in 2014, something shifted. We stopped talking about meetings as a time management problem and started talking about them as an organizational performance opportunity.

A recent Wall Street Journal article draws a direct link between the organization's meeting culture and their stock performance. Author Paul Ziobro opens the story with this: "Like Barbie's Dreamhouse and Hot Wheels track sets, meetings at Mattel Inc. now come with instructions... the new edicts are part of an effort by Mattel Chief Executive Bryan Stockton to overhaul a culture of conference rooms and PowerPoint presentations so the company can get back to thinking about toys."

David Grady's very funny TED talk on "mindless acceptance syndrome" compares attending meetings to stealing office furniture.

That comparison is quantified in a related article on the economic impact of bad meetings by author Emily Pidgeon. The data suggests that in the U.S. alone, $37B is wasted every year in meetings that are unnecessary, badly planned and executed, or over attended.

The Economist joined the conversation with the perspective that this kind of waste can simply no longer be tolerated. The article notes that "for the past 50 years manufacturers have battled successfully to streamline their factory floors and make them "lean." Today, businesses of all types need to do the same in their offices." Think about it this way: We would never tolerate a 20 percent yield loss on a production line. Yet it's incredibly common for a 30 minute meeting to start five minutes late, which amounts to the same thing.

Some of the most innovative companies have practices to help make sure meetings accelerate, rather than hinder, team performance. When Peter Teng of Instagram arrived at the company, he found teams weighted down by recurring meetings that had outlived their value. So he wiped the slate clean. Jeff Bezos has a simple "2 pizza" rule for ensuring productive teamwork: invite only the number of people you can feed with 2 pizzas.

Around this time last year, an extremely funny and dead-on skit about a conference call went viral. As of this writing, it has over 9 million views on You Tube. We laugh because it's true. But it's also reflective of a reality that is stifling innovation, productivity, and teamwork. What's become clear across all of these examples is that leadership is the key to re-energizing culture and moving beyond the accepted standard of mediocrity.

In 2014, we confronted the meeting menace. 2015 should be the year we defeat it.