Maybe Don't Just Cancel 75,000 Hours of Meetings

Canceling all your meetings sounds great but what fills the communication void it creates?

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The Shopify "cancel all the meetings" article has taken up a lot of room in my brain since I first read it yesterday.

My first thought was "Hey, that's cool, a bunch of people just got time back, maybe they'll be more effective."

My second thought was "Hey, what was missing about how they communicate that they needed 75,000 hours of meetings?"

This change is a classic example of a dramatic swing in a big system from something most people hate (meetings) that will likely end up in a dramatic swing back to something most people hate (more meetings).

"Why do you think it will swing back?" You ask?

What happens when you remove thousands of hours of meetings that had some purpose and the way the group communicates required synchronous communication.

When you cancel all these meetings, what fills the gap?

They cleared up "76,000" hours but what if some of those meetings were useful?

Cancelling all the meetings doesn't magically make everyone in the company happy with how they communicate with each other.

Instead there's now a gaping void of communication and everyone is going to have to scramble and figure out "how do I work in this new system?"

Don't get me wrong, I think most meetings could be replaced with asynchronous tools and processes, but the important part here is that they weren't.

It's feels great to blow away an entire organization's planned meetings, dust off your hands and say "hey, I did a good thing" but every existing meeting that matters needs a way to replace what was there or it will just end up on the calendar again.

I had a few takeaways, from an organizational change management perspective:

  • start small, share what you learn along the way. You'll be more successful, faster by starting small, finding what works and create a process for reducing the need for meetings.
  • Strive for communication mastery. Meetings suck, but absent or unclear communication sucks worse. If you and your team can strengthen your asynchronous communication, you can probably get rid of most of your meetings.

In practice, getting cozy on my arm chair quarter backing chair, here's what I would have done as a C-Suite making this decision:

  • Start with the C-Suite deciding what their least favorite meeting together is and use the second to last meeting slot to discuss why it needed to exist, if the content is still important
  • Use the last meeting slot to determine a few ways they think they can successfully communicate the content asynchronously
  • Test it out for the next few weeks and then asynchronously retrospective what's working and what's not
  • Bonus points: do it in a public channel in the organization's communication tool of choice and model the process
  • Pick another meeting to cancel and do the same process

The above will take more work than canceling all meetings at once, but it's principled in its approach and it creates an alternative space for the communication to continue.

Try Using Murmur

A small plug:

Murmur is an asynchronous decision making platform and it's built to make the process above delightful. You can use Murmur to propose this idea, get consent from the group asynchronously and once you've all decided you want to do it, it will nudge you in the future about how it's going.

As an alternative to using those two last meetings, cancel them instead and propose a decision to "Cancel Meeting X" in Murmur and propose an agreement called "How we Communicate".

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