Most USA companies have too many meetings

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

Every company I have worked at has had too many meetings, with too many people in the meetings. You can tell too many people are in the meetings because if you look around the room you can see that most people are bored, most have started to daydream, some are texting on their phones. As I see it, if you are manager, all your interactions are of 1 of 2 types:

1.) You need to talk to a human being, either to tell them things, or to hear what they have to say, or both.

2.) You need to send information to a group, or have someone in a group send information to the rest of the group.

For #1, you should never have a meeting with more than 3 people.

For #2, use email.

For my next business, I will adopt the rule that no meeting can have more than 3 people in it. That is a small enough group that you can ensure real human interaction — no one will day dream, everyone will be involved, and therefore everyone’s time is being used, rather than wasted.

For any information that is going out to a group, the most appropriate medium is email. It is asynchronous and does not waste the time of large numbers of people.

Of course, bad managers can waste anyone’s time. Even with the 3 person limit on meetings, a meeting can still waste someone’s time if the meeting is about something fundamentally stupid. But the point is, large meetings automatically waste people’s time: the waste is inherent in the size. Small meetings might be wasteful, but they are not automatically wasteful.

And of course, people getting together to work is not a meeting: if 6 carpenters are working on a house, they are not having a meeting, even though they might be physically close together and even though they might be talking to each other. Rather, I have noticed that carpenters very naturally use the 3 person limit that I’m suggesting here. When a carpenter needs to talk to another carpenter about something related to the task at hand (for instance, “I am almost done with these stairs and you are putting in the door at the top of the stairs, so how are you measuring the frame of the door?”) I have noticed that these conversations will involve 2 carpenters, maybe 3, but almost never 4.

Likewise, when a theater group gets together to rehearse a play, you might have 8 people on stage talking with each other, but they are working, they are not having a meeting.

I would make an exception for very bad news. If the company is going bankrupt, people often like to hear that in person, rather than via email. Or if a terrorists attack kills some of the employees, people may want to grieve in a communal space. So I can allow a company wide meeting for extraordinary events. But for normal events, I would enforce the 3 person rule.

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