Have you ever had the experience of running from one meeting to the next all day long? Using your lunch "break" as the only time to get your actual work done? Why do meetings feel like such a burden?
Placing a higher premium on the time consumed with meetings will make employees both happier and more productive.
No one disputes the virtues of collaboration, but problems arise when collaboration is equated to meetings. There are many forms of collaboration, both synchronous and asynchronous. Moreover, meetings are not always the most effective or productive way to collaborate. Just ask Cisco.
Anecdotal experience suggests that many business professionals work under an excessive meeting load. Workdays extend further and further into the early morning hours and late nights in search of free time to focus on actual deliverables (or to conduct still more meetings with geospacially dispersed team members).
Meetings run amock seems to be a tragedy of the commons where the resource being wasted is the collective (hu)manpower hours of the firm.
Limiting the availability of meetings as a resource for collaboration will increase their value and force employees to think more carefully about whether there are alternative ways to get things done.
One option would be to blackout times as unavailable for meetings. For example, a company could institute a "No Midday Meetings" policy that disallows meetings between the hours of 11 AM and 3 PM.
Another alternative would be to allocate employees with a finite number of meeting hours each week. Meeting allocations could be "consumed" either by setting up a meeting or by particpating in someone else's meeting. Differentiate between the two consumption models to help ensure employees don't use all their allocation for selfish purposes.
For example, an employee might be allowed up to 12 total hours per week for meetings but only 4 of those can be hours for meetings that the employee sets up, leaving at least 8 free to join other meetings (and the rest of the work week free to do other kinds of work). Allocations can be scaled according to role or business need.
Some experimentation would be required to get the precise number right. To ensure the system remains flexbile, allow for overages with a manager's approval. This both enforces justifying the meeting and keeps manager's in the loop should allocations need to be adjusted.
Once meetings become a scarce resource, employees will have to think more carefully about how they consume (or invest) that resource and more creatively about how to get thing done.
Freedom from meetings frees up time that employees can choose to spend in other productive ways - free time to connect with coworkers in other ways, free time to create work products of more tangible value. Employees will be challenged to find new ways of working together, but in time they will likely discover they need far fewer meetings than once they thought.
Culturally, some organizations will be less receptive to restricting meetings. Meetings may be confused with the value placed on collaboration and inclusiveness, which will require proactive change management.
There is a risk some will adjust to fewer meetings by consulting and informing less than they should, rather than come up with more creative alternatives to consult and inform others. There is also a risk that decision making cycles may drag out as the associated meetings are spread out over weeks rather than days. Both of these risks can be mitigated with the manager exception described in the solution.
How this hack is implemented will depend somewhat on the technical resources available. Meeting restrictions can be enforced upfront (e.g. using a rule set up on Microsoft Exchange Server) or on the backend via some form of audit. Some combination of the two is probably ideal. Scale will also influence the best implementation strategy.
A manager can quickly and easily test this hack with his/her team. Communicate the new policy - everyone gets 12 hours of meetings per week; you can only initiate 4 hours of meetings yourself; an email exception is required for any excess. Set up an email alias/dummy account that must be copied on all meeting invites. Audit that account periodically to ensure compliance.