Is Jeff Bezos a Master of Meetings?
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently revealed his Top 3 tips for carrying out effective meetings. Naturally, I got a bit excited hearing this. Bezos, being the corporate god he is, surely had some inspiring insights into meeting culture, with innovative ideas and techniques to share with us mere mortals. The Three Commandments according to Bezos.
What I found were three somewhat flawed ideas that I believe are impractical in your average, non-Amazon sized company. One idea was a tad obvious already, the other two were a little strange to us, to say the least. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Bezos’ ideas didn’t merit anything useful, but I’m here to be contrary nonetheless.
Idea 1: “Two Pizza” Teams
“We try to create teams that are no larger than can be fed by two pizzas,” says Bezos. “We call that the two-pizza team rule.”
Let’s get down to brass tax, how big are these pizzas? It’s like asking how long a piece of rope is. Anybody who’s had the luxury of watching me eat a pizza knows that no pizza is too big. And judging from the feedback in our office, a “two pizza” team here would solely consist of myself, and just one other colleague. The two of us just sitting there, chowing down on our large pizzas, coldly staring into nothing, with only the sound of chewing to accompany us.
I know what you’re thinking, and yes I am aware this is just a figure of speech. But anybody who’s ever attended a meeting before would be aware, whether consciously or not, that it’s important to keep numbers down. This plays into the psychology of meetings, of which you can read more about here. People can feel too intimidated to speak up in a large meeting, it’s also more difficult to form any sort of consensus with larger groups.
Plus, I’m a little disappointed in Bezos’ lack of creativity with the title. Instead of two pizzas, we could go totally leftfield with our analogy, like if you can’t all fit inside an igloo, your team is too big. Or, if you have too many players for a game of monopoly, your team is too big.
Idea 2: No PowerPoints
“No PowerPoints are used inside of Amazon,” boasts Bezos. “Somebody for the meeting has prepared a six-page…narratively structured memo. It has real sentences, and topic sentences, and verbs, and nouns – it’s not just bullet points.”
I think we’re all nodding our heads in agreement with the idea of abolishing PowerPoint presentations. Unless Scorsese is directing your PowerPoint, I don’t want to know about it. I’d bet Scorsese does a mean PowerPoint presentation when he’s up to it. Personally, there is no better means of guaranteeing that I forget a piece of information than by putting that information in a PowerPoint presentation.
The impracticality of Bezos’ idea, I believe, is the 6 pages of narratively structured memos as opposed to simple bullet points. The process itself I can understand as being hugely beneficial. Writing memos in a narrative structure allows for greater consideration of the points you’re actually making, as opposed to mindlessly regurgitating bullet points. You’re also more inclined to remember and engage with these points through careful reading rather than quickly scanning-over bullet points.
Where the problem lies is with the actual time it takes a person to write memos in a narrative structure. Writing two pages of a blog post can take up an entire morning if you worry about the details. Producing these 6 paged memos requires some serious time out of your regular work schedule. Moreover, we’re not all blessed with the writing skills necessary to produce these Pulitzer Prize winning memos. Writing bullet points isn’t perfect, but it is time-savvy and easier to apply in most scenarios.
Idea 3: Start With Silence
“We read those memos, silently, during the meeting,” says Bezos. “It’s like a study hall. Everybody sits around the table, and we read silently, for usually about half an hour, however long it takes us to read the document. And then we discuss it.”
From my experience, the biggest complaint with regards to meetings is how unnecessarily long they often are. Consider how much it costs your business to have up to 8 people sitting in complete silence reading memos for 30 minutes at the beginning of your meetings.
This also plays under the assumption that none of your colleagues were even bothered to read your meeting’s memo prior to the meeting itself. That doesn’t say a lot for your co-workers, or you! It sounds more like a supervised study session à la high school than a business meeting. Perhaps where Mr Bezos’ team differ from most is that they can afford to not read memos. They’re the C-suite of Amazon, some of the biggest cheeses in the dairy section. If you failed to read the memo before a meeting in real life, you’re going to look a wee bit foolish when your input is required.
But perhaps I’m being a little too critical, this technique probably does work wonders with the top executives who may not have the time in their schedules to fully ingest these memos. It’s worth remembering that certain techniques, although useful for the C-suite, may not necessarily work at other levels of the company.
In your average day-to-day business, it’s probably best to summarise the main points of the memo in bullet points and insist your team reads it before they attend the meeting. Or find a happy middle ground, like taking 5 minutes to quickly review these bullet points at the beginning of the meeting. Better to treat your teammates like adults as opposed to assuming the worst in them and allocating time for them to do what they should have already done.
We consider Jeff Bezos’ ideas on producing more effective meetings a little out of touch with smaller organisations and how they operate whereas in Silicon Valley, these tips might just be the key to productive meetings. Whatever your opinion is on Bezos’ tactics, one thing for certain is that different teams have different methods and styles. Some trial and error may be required before discovering the techniques that work for you and your team.
For more information on producing more interactive and engaging meetings, check out our blog here! Also be sure to check out our 247meeting Mobile app. With our app, there’s no dialling-in with PIN codes etc., the host simply selects who they wish to include on the call and dials-out like a normal phone call. The host can then clearly see on-screen who’s on the call, thus removing the potential for any unauthorised eavesdroppers.