Executive Forums 22 July 2021 / 5 minutes read

Do you REALLY need to be in all those meetings?

  • back to the office
  • Productivity
  • Work and Life
  • Everybody recognizes that organizational meetings are intended to increase collaboration and inclusivity. However, having too many meetings on your calendar is sure to act as a drag on productivity, focus, and engagement.

    This suggests that people who brag about constantly being in meetings probably don’t understand the concept of maximizing their efficiency. And it prompts the question; can you safely cut half the meetings (or more) from your calendar without negatively impacting your capacity to deliver results?

    My guess is you won’t miss the excess blather.

    Starting from this standpoint, it seems safe to conclude that spending excessive amounts of time in meetings leads to a significant loss of focus on cognitively demanding tasks required to get actual work done. We, therefore, suggest the following strategies for reducing meetings, increasing productivity, and improving overall happiness within your organization.

    Have a clear purpose. Any meeting should have an agenda that focuses on work, learning, collaborating, or decision making. If you’re planning a meeting that goes off in any other direction, re-evaluate before booking the conference room. The subject matter up for discussion can probably be addressed via WeChat or Slack, or maybe be set aside from active consideration until some later date.

    Make sure you have a clear agenda with intended outcomes defined, and that everyone knows about these objectives well in advance of the meeting. Then stick to it! This will maximize chances that everyone is prepared, improving results and expediting discussions.

    Know why you’re there. If you are unclear about why you’ve been invited to a particular meeting, ask before you get there. You may not really be needed there, enabling you to put your time to more productive use.

    Make actual decisions. Nothing’s more frustrating than a meeting ending and participants asking “What just happened?” To prevent this, don’t leave until actual decisions are made, including what will be done, next steps, timelines for these milestones to be met, what resources will be required, where they will come from, and who has responsibility for each piece of the project.

    Be open-minded. Merely sticking to a “That’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality may be the reason a current challenge exists. Recognize that the organization’s overall success is the objective everyone shares, and you may need to embrace an experimental mindset and agree to try something different in order to get there. Be sure anyone tasked with responsibility also has the authority to implement decisions, and that the right people are involved in this discussion with adequate advanced information to contribute and deliver the desired results.

    Population Control. Keep your meetings to under 9 people to improve chances communications remain clear and open. Studies repeatedly show that having more than nine in a conversation decreases a meeting’s value. When organizing your meeting’s list of invitees, ensure each person has a clear role and purpose for being there. If you’re the invitee, identify your purpose in advance or ask the facilitator to clarify why you need to attend.

    And if you legitimately feel you’re not providing (or receiving) the intended value with a meeting, you may not really be needed in the room. Consider delivering or asking for a summary post-meeting regarding how you fit into the larger discussion.

    What are the priorities? Here’s the thing; when every meeting is important, NOTHING is important. Return to the company’s overall objective and the meeting’s agenda to determine if the focus of a given meeting (and your role there) are actually significant. If the answer’s no, skip the meeting. After all, if someone is spending all their time in meetings when do they actually get to do the work they’ve committed to?

    Unless you’d rather risk having your team members burn out from arriving early, staying late, and working weekends in a desperate attempt to get focus time.

    Target time off. Give team members blocks of time where they don’t attend meetings and rotate those blocks among your staffers. This forces everyone to find other ways to communicate, rather than just having another meeting. It also compels cross-training, enabling departments to cover for each other and increasing information sharing to compensate for more traditional silo infrastructure and territorial mentalities.

    Be careful of “exceptions,” as they’ll quickly lead down a slippery slope back to meeting overload.

    Busyness is not a badge that one should be proud of, and living a life in back-to-back meetings is nothing short of insane. It’s too hard to do business with busy people. They think appearing busy makes them look important, but in truth, they’re too busy to get anything done. This virtually guarantees the desired organizational goals will never be reached.

    Equally obvious, no one person can fix the meeting overload issue singlehandedly. However, by instituting a companywide policy based on these recommended guidelines, department heads will be better positioned to help each other, themselves, and the overall organization.

    And with a clean calendar, you’re going to discover everyone has more time to think, strategize, solve problems, and envision where you want the business to be in five years. People will have more time with their families, outside interests, and for important things in life besides work. Creativity levels will improve, as will your overall results.

    And isn’t THAT what you’re really there to do?

    Bring these ideas with you to your next REF meeting and ask your fellow peer group members what they’re doing to cut excessive meetings in their organization. You might be surprised at some of the ideas you go home with.

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