Fixing Meeting Overload, Once and For All

The real remedy: giving teams far more discretion and responsibility over their time.

Fixing Meeting Overload, Once and For All

Meetings often feel like the corporate equivalent of a hamster wheel - a lot of running, but you're not really going anywhere. Some are confident that AI will fix the problem, but for now I suggest paying attention to the practical, evidence-based advice from Rebecca Hinds and Bob Sutton.

Meeting Overload Is a Fixable Problem
The authors of this piece have been studying how organizations can make the right things easier and the wrong things harder since 2014. In every workplace they’ve studied, helped, or worked at, they’ve found that meetings create wasteful and soul-crushing friction. To find out how to reduce that fri…

Even with the sensible suggestions from Rebecca and Bob, I can't shake the feeling that the real remedy will emerge from designing organizations that give individuals far more discretion and responsibility over their time. Let me give you an example from Buurtzorg Nederland, the largest and most successful home care provider in the Netherlands. Buurtzorg employs 15,000 nurses and other care workers, operating in teams with 6-12 people. Buurtzorg nurses dodge the meeting marathon in three ways:

First, they're self-managing: teams make their own decisions on core tasks like care planning, scheduling, and quality improvement. No need for a parade of managers or a cascade of meetings. They make decisions and get on with it.

Second, Buurztorg employees are trained in "solution-driven methods of interaction," which help make meetings short and focused on generating practical answers. These skills help avoid circular debates and de-politicize decision-making.

Third, the allocation of time is crystal clear: roughly 60% should be committed to client care in their homes. With an eye on the prize, team members naturally sidestep interactions that don't contribute to their mission of care.

Deciding the best meeting approach is continuously calibrated based on the situation. If things are going swimmingly, the cadence might be every other week. If teams are faced with thorny problems (e.g., interpersonal dynamics, or caring for challenging patients), they'll devote more time to interactions (sometimes tapping expertise across the Buurtzorg network).

I've seen the same pattern in other organizations that operate with autonomous operating units, like Haier and Nucor (for more on these, see Chapters 4 & 5 of Humanocracy). The amount of meeting time is no less and no more than what is needed to get the job done, since the patience (and incentives) for unproductive gabfests is essentially zero.

That can only be accomplished by giving teams the reins of their time, equipping them with the tools to steer it wisely, and holding them accountable for their choices. This is the secret sauce from Buurtzorg and other post-bureaucratic organizations, and it just might be the recipe to save us from death by meetings.