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Cancelling scheduled meetings boosts productivity and creativity

Cancel scheduled meetings
Replace scheduled meetings with an open door policy.

For many, scheduled meetings can feel pointless – people are often left wondering why they’ve been invited or wishing they were getting on with work at their desks.

Some SME leaders have been bold enough to ditch scheduled meetings altogether. Instead, they hold regular catch up meetings that keep teams on track.

Two entrepreneurs share their experience of what it’s like to ditch meetings, and offer advice on how to get it right.

Swap weekly team meetings for live targets

Long, unproductive and unnecessary meetings are the bane of many working lives, yet there are few bosses with the nerve to abandon them.

For Lisa Forde, founder of Shropshire-based stationer Dotty About Paper, old-style meetings simply weren’t productive enough for the time investment involved. She swapped out weekly team meetings for a “live targets” approach earlier this year.

Forde, who started her business in 2014 and employs 13 staff, said scheduled meetings disrupted her team’s workflow. Recent growth in the business had diversified the projects each department worked on, so it became less necessary to hold regular reviews on group progress.

“I wanted to streamline business strategy management and task lists, by ensuring everyone was given targeted information based on their own role in the company,” Forde explained.

“We also issued progress updates. These were designed to track how work was developing on a department and individual level, rather than a company-wide level. By taking a closer look at how we tackled goals, I gained greater insights into everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.”

With the live targets approach, each department manager regularly holds one-on-one progress updates with their own team. The purpose is to establish weekly goals, and ensure that everyone knows what they’re working on.

“My managers still have regular catch ups with me, so I can track the progress of the business as a whole. Our company-wide goals and targets help us to stay unified, even if we don’t meet each week,” Forde said.

Share goals and information faster

According to Forde, the extra hour every week is a boon for staff, and information on targets can be relayed faster. There are no inactive periods between meetings where goals are unclear, and there’s always something to work towards.

Scheduled meetings - Lisa Forde
Lisa Forde’s team shared information faster when they moved away from scheduled meetings.

“Live targets have helped each department to stay focused on their core goals as they develop. We’ve seen a big increase in productivity,” she said.

What’s more, the regular progress updates have helped staff to see how they contribute to the business. The updates have put a spotlight on the work they’ve achieved, and given them a greater sense of value.

“The progress updates have given me a better understanding of how each department works, which lets me channel their unique strengths to greater effect,” Forde said.

And, in turn, they’re motivated to perform at their best.

“Since starting this plan, my employees say they have a better grasp of what they need to accomplish. We can keep tabs on targets in real time, whereas before we’d have to wait until the weekly meetings to update each other.

“The targets created at team meetings can often be nebulous too. By honing in on individuals, we stay focused and effective. Everyone can see how each other’s strengths and weaknesses are part of the greater team effort.”

Have an open door policy

On the other hand, stopping scheduled meetings risks weakening lines of communication between staff and managers. Meetings provide a platform to raise points that might not have otherwise been considered.

“To compensate for this, I keep an open door policy. I want to ensure my team knows they can come to me with any concerns or ideas. We also share social events and team activities to help us stay close,” Forde said.

Large team meetings are still held, but only to discuss big developments like extensive brand work or new product launches at Dotty About Paper.

“Don’t be afraid to break with tradition when it comes to setting goals and corresponding with your team,” Forde advised. “Keep a flexible outlook as you look for the best solution for your own business.”

“What works for one company might not work for another. As a small team handling multiple ambitious projects, staff time is very valuable for us. So quick and versatile target-setting works better than lengthy meetings.”

An opportunity to free up creativity

WIREWAX, a London-based interactive video tech company, has also abandoned regularly scheduled meetings. Founded in 2009 by Steve Callanan and Dan Garraway, they have grown the business to a 45-strong team.

How often is staff productivity limited by unnecessary internal procedure?

Very rarely

A few times a year

In the last month

This happens all the time

“We’re a business of creatively-minded people and creativity comes in all shapes and sizes – and at all times too,” Callanan said.

“Trying to schedule creativity at a set day or time just didn’t work for us. We’re agile, and find the flexibility of being able to huddle and problem solve on the fly is way more beneficial.”

The only regular meeting the business has is a ten minute morning standup for the product and development teams. Otherwise, teams decide when to book a meeting room to work things out. Callanan says that ditching scheduled meetings has encouraged everyone to be a stronger communicator.

Focus on the metrics that matter

By abandoning scheduled meetings, the staff at WIREWAX have benefitted from the extra time.

“It can be easy for meetings to eat up valuable hours in a working day, leaving a limited time to actually act on the outcomes,” explained Callanan. And while change can often ruffle feathers, giving time back to staff is a no-brainer.

“If you need a meeting, have one. But don’t just have one because your calendar says it’s that time of the week again.”

It also means you’re forced to have a proper reason and agenda for meeting. WIREWAX asks teams to check in against quarterly business goals regularly, though this doesn’t happen as part of a rigid meeting.

“We use automated reporting and metrics to keep people laser-focused on the metrics that matter,” explained Callanan.

Be brave, and ask for feedback

Callanan urges other SME leaders to give it a try.

“What’s the worst that can happen?” he said. “If it doesn’t work, you rewind and then move on. If you don’t try, you’ll never know and you might be hampering the effectiveness of your team.”

It’s also important to be clear with your team that you’re trying something new and you value their feedback.

“The tactic doesn’t come with a financial cost attached, so the only cost is having someone take the time to gauge feedback to see if it works for you and your company. If you can make your people happier and more effective, then your business is going to be better for it.”

What to learn more about improving productivity? Our free benchmarking tool provides bespoke advice for business owners. Create an account to get started or log in if you’ve used the tool before.

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