Recently, we spent two and a half hours in a marketing meeting. Yes, that’s right, 150 minutes. We spent that time brainstorming, discussing, agreeing and disagreeing, planning, posing problems and finding solutions, and much more. We didn’t go into the meeting with a plan to spend that amount of time, it just organically occurred, and it was worth every minute. What we didn’t do in that time was our usual work. We disrupted our workflow, and the marketing team (and by extension the rest of the Press) is better as a result.
I once worked with a colleague who, when he led meetings, began by stating the maximum amount of time we could spend in that meeting. Sometimes, he would set the limit at just five or ten minutes. The result, at least in my opinion, was an instant curb on the potential for innovation and creativity. We were there, in essence, to check boxes and move on. I’m the opposite. At no time do I state how long a marketing meeting should last. We meet until our agenda has been achieved or until the flow of creativity has ebbed or until the usefulness of that gathering has been exhausted. In many ways, such an approach is a distinct barrier to workflow. Nothing else gets done during that time. For the five of us in today’s meeting the two and half hours meant that we didn’t address other, perhaps time-sensitive, tasks. That’s ok by me.
To many people a meeting of that length would sound like an awful idea. But, this meeting (and others we have like it) are almost always useful because we have time to be creative, to think, and to bounce ideas (however silly) off our colleagues so that we get feedback and learn and grow. Disrupting our regular workflow in this manner benefits our other tasks in many ways. We pause from the grind of daily tasks. We spend time in each other’s company—sometimes on-task, sometimes off. We learn about each other. We shape our larger marketing efforts. We drill down into the nitty-gritty of things that might otherwise simply occur without thought. In the end, we all are improved one way or another.
While these meetings are internal to the marketing team, we’ve started a new system of sharing the outcomes of the meeting with the rest of our colleagues in the Press. The Marketing Meeting Notes we provide, and the transparency that comes with doing so, mean that our colleagues can read what we’re thinking and discussing. They can ask us questions about the notes should they so wish, or they can simply read them and internalize them as they see fit. This aspect is new, but I’m hopeful that this disruption in their workflow will also provide benefits as they learn more about our ideas and goals.
As a manager, it’s imperative that I balance the benefits of team building, discussion, brainstorming, and creativity with the potential negative effects on task accomplishment and workflow. To my mind, though, there is no better way to accomplish the goals of collaborative work. We use Slack, email, and face-to-face chats on a regular basis as part of our workflow, but even those tools and methods cannot compete with the long-form meeting as a way to engage our collective talents in forward-thinking and innovative marketing. The meetings may run long (or not as the case may be) but we won’t stifle them under the blanket of “efficiency,” or place a time limit upon them, simply to adhere to a clock’s ever-moving hands and the regularity of workflow. In effect, we’ll create our own little time machine that halts the progress of those hands (metaphorically at least) and disengage ourselves from the unanswered emails, the data updates, the ringing phones. In the end, spending time (even two and half hours) to disrupt that endless, timeless, overbearing task master will make us the best marketing team we can possibly be. And for that, despisers of long meetings, I don’t apologize!
Marketing Director Martyn Beeny enjoys long meetings, especially when bagels are provided. You can follow him on Twitter @MartynBeeny