“You haven’t said anything yet. Why are you here?” This is howElon Musk, major shareholder of Tesla, SpaceX, PayPal and Twitter, recently shouted at one of his employees during a meeting. The billionaire is not used to taking gloves. We saw it fire by email half of the employees of Twitter, which he had just bought out for more than 40 billion dollars (before publicly regretting having done so, because he had realized that the company needed it).
But Elon Musk a few days ago went further, sending Tesla employees a real how-to meeting. which can perfectly apply in France. With the main lesson… to avoid any meeting! We explain why (but you can go directly to the principles of Elon Musk at the end of this article if you are too impatient!)
A study confirms the uselessness of many meetings
This message from Elon Musk echoes an American study which has just been published by the company Otta.ai, a specialist in collaboration tools, on meetingitis in companies. It was led by Dr. Steven Rogelberg. The conclusions of this professor from the University of North Carolina, who has worked for companies such as Google, Facebook, Cisco, the United Nations and was recently audited by the American Congress, are radical: a third of the meetings would be useless and they would cause companies to lose millions of euros. It even goes much further, eliminating this meetingitis would save 2 million euros per year for companies with less than 100 employees, 10 million for those with less than 500 employees and 100 million for those with 5,000 and more! Dr Steven Rogelberg eexplains that “when employees are in meetings they don’t need to attend, they become detached from the discussion or move on to other tasks, which disrupt their neighbors. This can not only diminish the quality of the meeting but decrease the productivity of essential employees.”
For employees surveyed in the US study by Otta.ai, meetings take up an average of 18 hours of employees’ weekly working time. Credit: Otta.ai
Post-Covid makes meetings flourish
This is all the more important since after the Covid crisis, and the boom in teleworking, companies have had more and more difficulty adapting their organization new hybrid working methods. Faced with the difficulty of coordinating teamwork when their employees are geographically dispersed, they reacted by… increasing the number of meetings. An Asian technology company observed, last year, the way 10,000 of its employees worked between April 2019 and August 2020. It discovered that they worked 30% more time when they were at home, in telework. But that this extra effort was useless, because their productivity dropped by …20%. In fact, all of their extra work time was taken up by meetings.
This study seems to confirm Bartleby’s law, enacted a few years ago by the newspaper The Economist, and which states that 80% of the time of 80% of the participants in a meeting is wasted. In France, studies are rare, but the latest, which dates a bit (2017), goes in the same direction. Carried out by the OpinionWay institute with 1,012 employees of companies with 500 or more employees, it shows that employees spend – on average – 4.5 hours per week in meetings, or 3.4 weeks per year. And more than double (6.2 weeks) for executives. But just over half (52%) of those meetings are considered productive. And a quarter of the participants admit that their presence is useless. But it’s hard to say no. David Grady, an American specialist in time management, explains this passivity by what he calls the “Automatic Acceptance Syndrome”. It’s a real “global epidemic”, he claims, which “consists of accepting a meeting request as soon as it appears in our calendar. It’s an involuntary reflex – click – it’s planned!”
Elon Musk’s Six Principles
The solution? Apply Jeff Bezos’ two pizza method. The founder of Amazon had established, at the launch of his company, the “two pizzas rule”: the participants of a meeting must be able to be fed with only two pizzas. LinkedIn and Facebook have long played on “co-walking”: meetings while strolling through the campus of each group. In France, some companies are followers of the “standing meeting”, which has the merit of shortening discussions because of tired kneecaps. But Elon Musk has an even more radical solution: say no! On November 25, he sent a very clear message to his Tesla employees, giving them a productivity guide that sets out six principles:
- Avoid large meetings, they discourage debate
- Leave the meetings or you will not bring anything. It’s not rude to leave…
- Forget the hierarchical chain to communicate with your colleagues
- Be clear rather than smart. No jargon.
- Forgo regular meetings – text or email instead
- Be practical, don’t follow the rule, but the company’s goals
The founder of Tesla is not always inspired in his messages to employees. But, there, one can hardly reproach him for having been so frank.
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