A confession: during past half of year I organized exactly two meetings with engineers in my team. Both were mostly about organizational issues regarding whole company, not just my team.
How did I do that?
Let’s start with why meetings are organized. Most of the time meetings happen to enable communication between people. Why don’t people just go to meet each other at their desks? Well, because they sit in different places, have different things to do and, often, have little free slots in their calendars. Sometimes they need to prepare themselves to say something reasonable and invitation to the meeting gives them time for that.
Basically all these reasons become non-existent when whole team sits in one place.
You don’t have to busily gather people from different places because, surprise, surprise, everyone is there.
You don’t have to wander what people do at the moment since, well, you just see it in a glimpse. You can make your call whether it’s a good time to interrupt them at the moment or you should wait for a quarter.
You don’t feel urge to finish in planned time slot even when the discussion is great and you’re solving problems like crazy. Neither do you feel this funny feeling when everything was said but no one hurries back to work and you just spend your time on chit chat because a meeting room is reserved for another half an hour.
You can even allow starting talking with folks on subjects they aren’t prepared to. You can because whenever they need to prepare they’ll tell it and a discussion will be restarted later. This is like instantly starting a meeting instead of sending invitations. Odds are everyone is ready and you don’t waste time. If they are not it works similarly to invitation with agenda but better since you start meeting as soon as everyone’s ready.
You should still think how improve transparency and communication flow but, believe me, once you start talking about almost everything in front of your team, even though you’re talking with a person next desk, people will know way more than they would otherwise. It would work that way even if you reported all your workweek on 4-hour long weekly summary with your team, which would be a candidate for the top dumb management practice of a year by the way.
And the best thing. With this approach you magically clear everyone’s calendar. Finding slot when everyone is free becomes the easiest thing under the sun because everyone basically stopped attending meetings.
A cherry on the cake: finding free conference room doesn’t bother you anymore.
It won’t work for 50 people. As far as teams aren’t bigger than 10 people it should do well. Vast majority of teams fall in to this category. Sometimes you need to focus and you don’t care about architecture discussion happening over your desk. You can take a break or try to isolate yourself with headphones. Either way it is a cost, but on average it’s significantly lower than it would be if you switched for old-school meeting approach.
This applies only to team-related meetings. If your people have a lot of cross-team meetings and spend long hours on company-wide roundups filled with jabber this doesn’t have to be huge improvement. But then you’re doomed anyway. One of my engineers attended a few meetings on coding standards beyond these two I organized.
The approach works best for engineers. Project managers and business people will meet other people more often that once per quarter but it should be still an order of magnitude meetings less than it used to be.
I wouldn’t get this kind of crazy idea but it happened so my whole team is collocated and it’s the best organizational thing which could happen. If you think it’s drastic, you’re wrong. Meetingless environment comes naturally. Maybe it so because this way you possibly are all time at the meeting, but at the same time you “meet” people only when it’s really needed.
Try it. And tell me what happens.