In the time you spend reading this story, your next meeting could be over.
Annoyed by a calendar clogged with hourlong meetings,
chief executive of Huge Inc., a 1,500-employee New York digital agency, has started holding five-minute meetings. Rather than booking a conference room for 30 minutes, he makes minor decisions in five-minute huddles with colleagues. When employees ask to meet with him, he conducts deskside “drive-bys” with each one.
He has no qualms about cutting people short when they ramble by being what he calls “politely blunt.”
“It’s often shocking when people first come to Huge,” he says.
Media executive Jason Schlossberg, who loves to talk, was making a point in a meeting shortly after joining Huge as managing director last April when Mr. Shapiro cut in and told him he understood, and Mr. Schlossberg should move on. “I had four more anecdotes to prove that point!” Mr. Schlossberg says he thought at the time. Now, he says, “I choose my words more carefully.”
Mr. Shapiro stands at the forefront of a war on meeting bloat. Weary of long, inefficient meetings, some employers are squeezing minor decision-making sessions into a few minutes. Agile-management techniques embraced years ago by tech companies are bringing brief daily check-in meetings to marketing, e-commerce, advertising and other fields.
The move is shattering some workplace rites and routines: Long-winded monologues and PowerPoints are out. There’s no time for small talk, and less tolerance for 30- or 60-minute meetings when five to 15 minutes will do. Participants must learn to distill their ideas and requests to the conference-room equivalent of an elevator pitch.
Employees at Scrum50 start brief daily meetings right on time and finish some in as little as four to six minutes, says
managing partner of the South Norwalk, Conn., digital marketing agency. “If you’re five or six minutes late, you’ve missed it.”
Creative professionals used to making polished presentations must briefly explain mere seeds of ideas or works-in-progress instead, says Scrum50’s executive creative director,
“You sort of need to check your ego at the door,” she says.
was cut short during a meeting shortly after joining LaneTerralever, a Phoenix digital agency, in 2015. “It feels like having the wind knocked out of you,” says Mr. Abbruscato, an account director. The agency has 25-employee teams meet every morning for rapid-fire updates on dozens of projects, says
chief operating officer.
People typically speak for 15 to 30 seconds at a time—or risk being cut off by meeting leaders. Now, Mr. Abbruscato spends five minutes before each meeting paring his customary three- to five-minute updates to 30 seconds, max. He carries notes with him to prod his memory, he says.
Many meeting leaders employ the three-bounce rule, says
chief executive of AgencyAgile, Los Angeles, a management-training firm. After three back-and-forth exchanges between two participants, the topic is deferred to a separate meeting. Others impose a “so-that” imperative: Any update must include a description of the impact on others, as in, “I completed my work on that project so that Angela can take it to the client today,” Mr. Skeels says.
When product manager
was drawn into a long exchange with a co-worker during a recent meeting at her employer, Fingerpaint Marketing,
hit play on music she has queued on her laptop: Nappy Roots’s “Good Day,” says Ms. McKenna, head of operations at the Saratoga Springs, N.Y., marketing agency. She likens it to music at the Oscars signaling that it’s time for winners to stop talking. Ms. Roth adds, “I was like, ‘OK, yeah, we’re done with this conversation.’ I was wasting seven other people’s time.”
chief executive of Track1099, a Redwood City, Calif., maker of tax-filing software, says there’s no time during her five-minute video meetings with employees to worry about her image or appearance. “That’s one of the beauties of five-minute meetings: They’re so fast nobody is really assessing how your hair looks,” Ms. West says.
Asking someone to coffee can seem just too long. Chief executive
sometimes holds five-minute sessions he jokingly calls “lightning meetings” among employees at 121Nexus, a Cambridge, Mass., software developer: A lightning meeting “has energy, it has action, people are shocked by it and everything about it truly moves,” Mr. Kim says.
When vendors ask to set 30 minutes for coffee, he gives them 10. “Thirty minutes is a lot. What are we going to achieve?” he says. He has little use for the “banter for the first five minutes: How are you doing? How are the kids?” he says. “To respect the other person’s time, maybe you need to get right to it,” he says. “We all drink way too much coffee already.”
If a meeting participant at Netamorphosis, a New York e-commerce company, drones on too long, chief executive
holds up a hand and says, “Nope, we’re not going to talk about that right now.” She later huddles with employees she silences to smooth over “what might be considered rude behavior,” Ms. Spann says.
“An adverse effect of this kind of efficiency,” she says, is that “meetings used to be a time to connect. You’d ask people how their weekend was. You build relationships. We run the risk of missing that.” She compensates by scheduling time off on Fridays for socializing, and check-ins every 30 days for employees to talk about how they’re feeling, “take a deep breath and get some reinforcement,” Ms. Spann says.
Work & Family Mailbox
Q: I was fascinated by your column on how to tell when you’re on thin ice at work. I know it can be difficult to give meaningful feedback to a subordinate, but shouldn’t the boss bear more responsibility here? Why does so much of the burden fall on the employee to figure out when he or she is in trouble?—D.G.
A: Many managers give employees feedback in annual performance reviews tied to decisions about compensation. That usually isn’t often enough to help subordinates change course before they’re in trouble.
The reviews are often poorly done. A manager may sugarcoat criticism or use vague language to avoid sparking conflict, hurting feelings or being seen as a jerk.
Some managers are afraid that if they deliver bad news, the employee will complain to human resources and cause a big flap. Others are slow to give feedback because they believe they can fix the problem by providing coaching or serving as a role model. Also, many managers don’t know how to deliver criticism in a considerate way, and think their only option is to be brusque or rude.
More companies are finding ways to give feedback quarterly or monthly. Some use goal-setting programs or apps that allow ratings of individual employees. Others set up systems that allow employees to ask for feedback anytime on how they stack up in such areas as leadership ability. The trend toward giving more frequent feedback is likely to intensify amid mounting time pressure, flattening workplace hierarchies and growth in team-based management of projects.
Write to Sue Shellenbarger at Sue.Shellenbarger@wsj.com