" Most organizational problems are behavioral problems.
But the solution is often not behavioral.
Usually people know what they are supposed to do but it’s a nuisance.
So the solution is about tweaking the system.
Making it easier for people to do the right thing."
– Dilip Soman
On Tuesday morning, January 3rd 2023, Shopify employees came back from their holiday break to a surprise. Upon turning on their PCs, they found a memo instructing them to lighten up their calendars by canceling all recurring meetings of more than two people.
Not only that: they were instructed to make Wednesdays “meeting-free” zones and move any large meetings within a six-hour block on Thursdays. They even met a bot that urged them to think twice before scheduling a meeting. Not long after, the Shopify Meeting Cost Calculator was introduced, a forceful reminder to say “no” to meetings as much as possible.
Shopify isn’t the only company to take a firm stand against meeting overload. Many organizations, including Facebook, Accenture, Slack, Asana, NPR and Atlassian, have gone on a “meeting diet”. Still, the tech giant’s January mandate caused considerable upheaval on social media platforms.
Some characterized the move as "bold" and "brilliant", while others thought it "an overcorrection" that will lead to isolation.
Which is it?
Finding the right remedy for meeting madness
As behavioral scientists, we can’t help but wonder whether the policy’s forcefulness will backfire on employee productivity, team effectiveness and performance.
After all, meetings are a breeding ground for collaborative creativity and innovation. They foster relationships and facilitate effective information sharing. Meetings are necessary for teamwork and inclusion.
The crux of the matter lies not in meetings per se, but rather in the realm of unproductive ones.
Under a behavioral science lens, blocking meeting culture often forgoes the opportunity for collaboration – the chance for employees to make meetings more productive. Not just for the sake of financial results, but for individual performance, work-life imbalance and protection from burnout.
In other words, framing meeting madness in terms that employees care about – and giving them the opportunity to fix it on their own terms – could be a better remedy than mandates.
How we can improve meetings through co-creation
Addressing the root causes of bad meetings is organizational change. And what does behavioral science teach us about sustainable organizational change? We’re best off leveraging the power of co-creation: involving employees in the design process.
Co-creating circumvents the force of psychological reactance that we feel when someone is attempting to limit our choices. Co-creation also builds on our tendency to value and respect something more if we’ve built it ourselves. Co-creating productive meetings is an easy way to create unity and shared purpose within a company, motivating employees to do their best for the common goal.
Delivering a co-creation workshop using behavioral science
While co-creation might sound like an abstract buzzword, it’s as simple as setting up a one-time workshop for employees. A workshop that works on ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what’ of productive meetings.
Why - Articulating the need for change
Starting with "why" helps align the efforts of the team, motivating members to work together collaboratively toward the common goal. Moreover, when people know and connect with the deeper purpose behind their actions, they become inspired. In the case of meeting madness, the “why” encompasses both professional and personal reasons. Giving permission to employees to consider all these reasons, and not just the ones related to organizational performance, is what will make them pay attention.
How - Identifying particular causes
Most of the causes of unproductive meetings are behavioral in nature.
For example, the curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias where we incorrectly assume that everyone knows as much as we do on a given topic. When attending a meeting, we may think the purpose of a meeting is to get a firm grasp on what the core issue of a problem is, but someone else might think the purpose is to evaluate solutions, and another to brainstorm ideas. If the purpose of the meeting is not understood by everyone, progress is slow and frustrating.
What - Committing to tangible changes
As employees learn about the relevant heuristics and biases, social norms and mental models that influence meetings, they start to think of actionable remedies for boosting their own behavior and structuring their own decision environments.
For employees, with employees
The best part about meetings is that they allow colleagues to be on the same page. Nowadays, there’s a general feeling of meeting misery among employees, feeling overburdened and resentful of having their time wasted. This is ripe ground, not for generic rules or mandates, but for co-creation.
By understanding the basics of behavioral science around meetings, employees can be effectively trained to co-design their own system of small habits, aimed at revamping their meetings in terms of better planning and execution, feedback and accountability.
Organizations that decide to go this way will acquire an accomplice – not just a passenger – in their fight against meeting madness.
Question for you
Are you ready to have better meetings with your team and clients?
If yes, we will be offering a series of virtual seminars with Deloitte Academy in March/April 2024. If you're interested or have any questions, send me a line at email@example.com and I'll make sure to keep you posted.