How to make meetings suck less

About a year ago I read an article about Jeff Bezos’ approach to meetings at Amazon that really resonated with me. Specifically, there were three things that make meetings more effective and efficient that really stood out to me.

  1. The Two-Pizza Team Rule – According to Jeff Bezos, Amazon tries to “create teams that are no larger than can be fed by two pizzas”
  2. No PowerPoint – “No PowerPoints are used inside of Amazon,” Bezos proudly declares. “Somebody for the meeting has prepared a six-page…narratively structured memo. It has real sentences, and topic sentences, and verbs, and nouns–it’s not just bullet points.”
  3. Start with Silence – “We read those memos, silently, during the meeting,” says Bezos. “It’s like a study hall. Everybody sits around the table, and we read silently, for usually about half an hour, however long it takes us to read the document. And then we discuss it.”

Like Bezos, I’m a big believer in small group meetings. Based on my experience, it’s too difficult to have a conversation that’s relevant to most if there are more than eight people in the room.

I don’t necessarily 100% agree with no PowerPoint, though. Yes, there are times when having a narrative works better, but in some cases, bullet points can be more effective. One can’t replace the other. Use the right tool at the right time for the right people.

What I found really interesting is the study hall format. Since learning about, I’ve tried it out in multiple meetings by allocating the first 5-10 minutes (not 30 minutes as Bezos suggests) so everyone can go through the document or deck and add their questions and comments in advance of the discussion. Here’s what I observed:

The Pros

  • It ensures everyone has read the materials and the context is fresh in people’s mind (and yes, I know meeting organizers can always send materials in advance as pre-reading, but people still have to carve out time in their schedule to get it done. This is especially difficult for people who attend lots of back-to-back meetings).
  • It provides dedicated time for pre-reading that is already built into the meeting (similar to the point above)
  • It helps reduce the amount of context switching so the quality of the conversation goes up noticeably because the context is so fresh in everyone’s mind.
  • The quality of the questions improves because people don’t have to multi-task in the meeting, i.e. listen, read, absorb AND ask at the same time.

The Cons

  • It means less time to talk, especially when meetings are only 30 minutes long (but IMO, we get this time back in a way because we might have wasted those 5-10 minutes getting attendees up to speed anyway).

As you can tell, I become a fan of the study hall format, and while I recognize it doesn’t work for every type of meeting, it’s helpful when teams need to be on the same page with specific background information. That’s when spending 5-10 minutes to make sure everyone is “in the zone” is well worth it.

Incorporating the Study Hall format to your next meeting gives you time: Time for understanding; Time for extended reflection; Time for focused thinking; All of which leads to better and more effective meetings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s