Gaining traction

Have you ever wondered why it seems more difficult to get things done these days? Despite endless meetings, video calls and emails? Why does it take so long to make decisions …and not necessarily the right ones?

You’re not alone in thinking there must be a better way. Many companies try to address this ‘wheelspin’  by redesigning who does what and who reports to whom. But, because this exercise tends to focus on top-down command relationships, it rarely solves the underlying problem. And that is the poor design and execution of collaborative interactions.

Partly thanks to COVID, we’re now swamped with virtual interaction technology.  From Zoom to Slack to Teams, plus group texting, WeChat, WhatsApp, and everything in between. Technically there’s no excuse not to collaborate. Interacting is easier than ever, but productive, value-creating collaboration is not. And what’s more, where engagement is occurring, its quality seems to be deteriorating. This wastes valuable resources because low-value interaction eats into time that could be used for more important and productive activities. A recent McKinsey survey found that 80% of executives say they frequently spend too much time on pointless interactions that drain their energy and produce information overload.

If you feel your organisation is losing traction, first take a look at creating different kinds of interactions that are more fit-for-purpose.

Live interactions can be useful for information sharing, particularly when leaders want to ensure there’s ample time to process it and ask questions. But most of us would admit that most meetings are not particularly useful and often don’t accomplish their intended objective. So start by making them shorter and more focused. At Netflix, meetings cannot go beyond 30 minutes. Meetings for one-way information sharing are replaced by mechanisms such as memos, podcasts, or vlogs. Two-way information sharing is time-limited by insisting that attendees review materials in advance, so replacing presentations with Q&As.

In Japan, Microsoft’s “Work-Life Choice Challenge” adopted a four-day workweek, reduced time spent in meetings and boosted productivity by 40%.  Shopify uses “No Meeting Wednesdays” to enable employees to devote time to change projects and to promote creative thinking. Removals business Moveline dedicates every Tuesday to “Maker Day,” an opportunity to create and solve complex problems without the distraction of meetings.

As well as looking at the time, take a look at who attends. There are real financial and transactional costs to meeting participation. Leaders should treat time spent in meetings as seriously as companies treat financial capital. What’s the meeting for, and who should go? Who can be excused, and at what point? Who needs to be there for the conclusion?