The concept of a “no-meeting day” has recently become a phenomenon of sorts. The idea is to give employees an entire work day designated as 100 percent meeting-free.
Companies in technology, healthcare and business sectors have been eager to implement this practice. The goal is to create space for employees to engage in focused work for an entire day. Leaders that adopt this approach view meetings as a disruption to daily productivity.
As a team collaboration expert, I fully support finding ways to increase uninterrupted work time. However, without efforts to address the root causes of unproductive meetings, the power of the “no-meeting day” is limited.
Unproductive meetings are the root issue
A no-meeting day has some benefits. Teams that adopt this practice report an increase in productivity. However, eliminating meetings on a given day simply pushes unproductive meetings off to another day, potentially making those days more stressful. Plus, the no-meeting day is not a panacea for every kind of team.
Consider sales or client-facing teams that require regular real-time interaction with people: Cross-functional teams may not fully benefit unless every team or department implements the practice.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach; different individuals and different tasks require working in different ways. Extroverts may prefer having their days broken into segments of individual and group activity. Also, certain tasks are better completed as a group.
If you do choose to have a no-meeting day, team leaders should:
Embrace the practice and create a culture that supports it. You should model the rule by not scheduling meetings on the designated days. Mixed messages can confuse employees and damage trust.
Clearly communicate the goal of implementing the practice to your people, which is to provide more uninterrupted work time. You should also provide guidance for implementation and take steps to ensure employee buy-in and commitment.
Not rely solely on the no-meeting day to solve an organization’s problem with meetings. The day should be a part of an overall strategy that addresses the root causes of those problems.
Make ‘meeting days’ work for you
While a no-meeting day might be a good start, a more thoughtful approach is to have fewer and more effective meetings during the week. Try the following approach to reduce the quantity (and improve the quality) of meetings.
1. Cancel meetings without agendas and clear outcomes
This may sound extreme, but it’s just practical. Defining a desired outcome is a helpful meeting practice. Status update meetings and recurring meetings often lack the desired outcome: People meet out of habit instead of critically thinking about the outcomes.
If you’re not the meeting leader and you receive a meeting invitation without a desired outcome, be proactive and ask for one. Remember: If a meeting leader can’t clearly articulate the outcome, the meeting will likely be a waste of time.
2. Encourage team members to decline ‘time waster’ meetings
One advantage of a no-meeting day is that it gives employees permission to decline a meeting. If a meeting is not the best use of time, allow team members to decline the meeting and offer alternative ways to contribute. For example, you can ask team members who miss a meeting to provide thoughts in advance via email or a quick chat.
3. End every meeting with a wrap-up
A meeting wrap-up clarifies what was — or wasn’t — accomplished. Capture next steps, decisions and key learnings so action items aren’t forgotten or lost, and follow-through happens. Wrap-ups provide an opportunity to solidify alignment and celebrate meeting results. Allocate three-to-five minutes on your agenda for the meeting wrap-up.
If the no-meeting day was created to provide employees more focused time for work, the next step is to improve and reduce the number of meetings that they do attend.
This article has been edited.
Mamie Kanfer Stewart is the Founder & CEO of Meeteor and author of Momentum: Creating Effective, Engaging and Enjoyable Meetings.