The Two Pizza Rule: How to make meetings more productive

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Meetings are a necessary part of work. Some might describe them as a necessary evil. In the United States, it is estimated companies hold an estimated 11 million meetings every day. To give the statement a bit more perspective, a Harvard Business Review study says consecutive weekly meetings can eat up as many as 300,000 hours a year of employees’ time.

How do companies cut down on that time and, instead, repurpose it to more productivity and increase the success and productivity of meets?

One word: pizza.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos does not to waste time, especially with meetings. So, he put in place a very simple, but strict, rule: he will not call or attend a meeting if two pizzas wouldn’t feed the entire group. Sadly, the rule does not mandate pizza at every meeting CNBC reports.

According to research from the Society for Human Resources Management, a decline in meetings can increase organization productivity. In a paper entitled Wasted Time and Money in Meetings, Steven Rogelberg and his associates said most organizations devote 7 percent to 15 percent of their personnel budgets to meetings. That same paper took a look at a 1995 estimate from Xerox. Its 24,000-employee manufacturing and development unit spent upwards of $100.4 million a year on meetings.

Bezos isn’t the only CEO that limits meetings. Basecamp CEO Jason Fried limits meetings to only a small group of attendees. Fried also uses a method, which allows his workers to work a shorter week during the summer; 32-hours to be precise and longer weeks during the year; a 40-hour work week.

Curing Meeting Malaise

"We have too many meetings! I have no time to do my work!"

HR professionals have heard those exact words many times from a plethora of employees. This could easily meeting malaise. HR Exchange Network contributor Lawrence Polsky explains what meeting malaise is and 9 words that could be used to cure it.

Let me explain the disease of Meeting Malaise. Symptoms include: long meetings with seemingly no purpose; meetings without debate or discussion of the real issues; and leaving meetings feeling like you need a week in bed to recover, but can’t because you have so much work to do!

We do need meetings. As you attempt to quickly adapt to the changing business landscape, there are so many things to talk about, you could spend your whole day in meetings. And in today’s cross functional, multinational, high paced world, meetings are critical to getting things done. However, if the meetings are scheduled and run properly, then there wouldn’t be meeting malaise.

The solution is simple. It requires you to just say 9 words. Before I give you the words, let me point out what normally happens: You go into someone’s office (or start a meeting) and say "Hey, how are you? " You talk for 3 minutes, and then you innocently ask "How is Customer C doing?" Now, it turns into a tactical meeting where you’re talking about tactics to implement a strategic initiative. Next, people are complaining about the strategy for the project or the strategy for the department, team or division. Then, you all start reflecting on the last quarter, and get into a long conversation that feels like a department retreat. The next thing that you know, you just lost 60 minutes!

This is the cause of meeting malaise. It’s not so much that there are too many meetings. It’s that the meetings are not targeted. And they come one after another all day long!

Here’s the solution? Compartmentalize. High performing teams compartmentalize meetings. They can have a lot of meetings because they are focused. It’s really important to stick to one meeting for one purpose. So, if it’s a quick meeting to say "Hi" and check-in, keep it a check-in meeting. If it’s a project meeting, keep it a project meeting - don’t make it an off-site review to figure out how to change the company!

Now here come the 9 words. We use these 9 words in our company to much success and coach teams we are helping to do the same: "This sounds like a topic for a ____ meeting". We have 4 types of meetings in our company: check-in, project work meeting, project updates, and strategic. You may have 4, 5 or 6 types. It doesn’t matter. Whether you’re the leader or the consultant of the team, use the 9 words when you’re having one type of meeting and someone brings up something for another type. Just tell them "This sounds like a topic for a ____ Meeting." It lets them know the topic is important, and helps you keep focused.

I can picture some of my cynical friends and clients in my head saying "Great! He is recommending having more meetings!" Yes I am. But not more, long unproductive meetings. Shorter, focused, productive meetings. And while we are talking about meetings, why do they have always have to be an hour? What is the magic of 60 minutes? Just so you can fill a block in your calendar and then waste half of it? Schedule 10 or 20 minute meetings. Or 75 minute meetings that start on the half hour.

To cure Meeting Malaise just takes some old fashioned discipline. Someone just has to say the 9 words. Use the 9 words to keep your meetings on point, keep people engaged, value people’s times, and increase productivity.

Sometimes bad meetings are an escape from the pressure of getting stuff done. Sometimes it’s just poor meeting management. Whatever the case is, make sure you use the 9 words to cure meeting malaise.


Mason Stevenson
HR Exchange Network