7 Steps To Combat Too Many Meetings

pennyLEADERSHIP, Meeting Optimization

this is why you have too many meetings

We often spend plenty of our working hours in too many meetings. Whether it’s meetings with stakeholders, clients, or even meetings about more meetings, we can’t seem to get control of them.

These crazy calendars make it harder to actually get focused work done. Often we find ourselves working hours and weekends to supplement. But that can’t be sustained for so long. Before long, the frustrations, and annoyance of attending to many unproductive meetings begin to derail our productivity.

No doubt meetings are vital to enabling creativity, collaboration, and innovation. Meetings are also beneficial to building relationships and ensuring proper information exchange.

A study by Steven G. Rogelberg, a UNC Charlotte Professor and Expert on meeting strategy producing a report for meeting notes software make, Otter.ai confirms that too many people get pulled into time-wasting meetings.

Over 632 workers across 20 industries that participated in that study, said, they didn’t need to be in 20% of the meetings they attended weekly.

Another study by Harvard Business Review also found that companies spend a total of $37 billion every year.

What happens when there are too many meetings?

The same study by Steven G Rogelberg, measured how much time workers spend in these nonessential meetings compared to their salary, discovered that organizations with over 5,000 people waste about $100 million annually. A company with 100 employees could potentially save $2.5 million per year.

Let’s look at this from the individual perspective; the average employee goes to 17.7 meetings weekly, spending 1/3 of their working hours in one meeting or the other.

The bottom line – unproductive meetings are super expensive and these costs aren’t just about the direct investments in putting these meetings together but the amount of stress and frustrations that our teams leave these meetings with, which is detrimental to actual focused work, causing a ripple effect that is felt in all-round organizational performance.

Another Harvard Business Review, studying automotive supply, electrical, packaging, and other companies discovered that complaining in meetings and wandering off-topic, led to reduced innovation and lower levels of market share. So, besides limiting the amount of time spent in actual deep work, unproductive meetings can cause more frustration and lower time that should be spent brainstorming fresh ideas.

Hence, getting rid of unnecessary meetings can cause a ton of benefits, such as:

  •  allowing our teams to better engage in the work activities
  • increasing productivity,
  • giving our teams more ownership over their personal to-do lists, which further pushes them to be more accountable for their work
  • Helping them perceive that they are no longer micromanaged but are valuable and trustworthy improves their job satisfaction.
The average employee attends at least 20% of unnecessary meetings. Click To Tweet

Here’s an HBR chart detailing the importance of having fewer meetings:

having fewer meetings is better than too many meetings

Why are you having too many meetings?

At the core, we often have too many meetings, because as leaders we feel out of control and consider meetings as an avenue to sense tensions, test our hypotheses, and check to see how employees react to new changes amongst others. The meeting culture is especially worsening since the hybrid workplace has led to a lot of disconnects thereby causing more leaders to schedule more virtual meetings in a bid to get back some control over the workplace.

But then ineffective meetings are never going to bring back that control. Today’s workers are still lashing out against these increases in meetings. Rogelberg’s study equally found that because many people felt compelled to attend these meetings, they were driven to try and multitask during them.

Rogelberg’s study also found that people did this in almost 70% of gatherings and often spent time hiding or muting their audio and video to accommodate for this.

But then, we also realize that multitasking isn’t the solution. This disengagement further distracts the entire meeting leading to a lot of unproductivity.

Read this: Optimizing meetings: A foolproof system to stop wasting time

Step 1: Make meetings super focused and specific

Leverage the Scrum way of planning, structuring, and auditing meetings. Scrum teams also often have super-short meetings that are hyper-focused on getting things done. This system ensures that your meetings:

  • Have a clear purpose which may be collaboration, prioritization (when project planning), learning (retrospective, feedback gathering), collaboration, or decision-making.
  • Have a clear separation in time when meetings have two or more purposes
  • Must have good agendas. A quick solution to framing meeting agendas correctly is setting questions against a list of topics. By framing them as questions, you can think of who will be answering them. And if you can’t change those topics into questions, there’s a possibility you don’t need a meeting and should opt for a more passive asynchronous communication route. 
  • Must always include decisions: Hence, agendas should be shared before the meetings, so that decisions can be made quickly. Also encourage your team to experiment, thereby driving them to focus on achieving things instead of being stuck with decision fatigue.
  • Have a facilitator who also acts as a timekeeper to help call when conversations go off-topic.
  • Must begin and end on time.

 

Step 2: Harness the power of technology

If your meetings aren’t following these core tenets, there’s a high chance, other systems of information sharing and collaboration would be valuable. For instance, meetings that function as status updates might be better solved using passive communication routes like a Kanban board or using platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Slack. A good goal to keep in sight is to ensure that everyone has access to the information they require in real-time. Technology may also be beneficial for the actual meeting. From sending high-quality meeting notes to gathering ideas from your team using tools like Google Forms and Mural to ask people to submit their ideas in advance for brainstorming meetings, you can enjoy a lot more efficiency.

This further drives communication, and collaboration which would have been heavily limited if meetings and emails were the only tools for communicating and organizing.

Step 3: Encourage more people to observe good meeting etiquette

This begins with actions such as not allowing laptops during face-to-face meetings, ensuring everyone turns on their audio/video at Zoom meetings, to having a facilitator to avoid off-topic comments.

It is also highly important to lead by example and encourage others to contribute instead of merely listening throughout meetings. Off-course as you have fewer meetings, employees will be more likely to contribute instead of remaining passive during meetings.

 

Step 4: Invite only the right roles to the right meetings

 It is important to realize that whereas employees accept 83% of meeting invitations, they want to decline at least 31% of those meetings, even if they end up only declining 14%. Hence, we must work hard to trim down invites s that we are only inviting specific people to each meeting. A good way to start is to work with existing meetings.

Steve Jobs provides a great system, by asking everyone to justify their presence, in a meeting of more than 9 people, or whether there is something they could be doing and should merely receive meeting notes. If you are a leader, you can delegate attendance to another team member and ask for a short report back. Over time, you get clearer on the roles, responsibilities, and assignments which further makes it easier to invite only the right roles to the right meetings.  

Regarding roles, do realize that job descriptions change over time. Hence, you may have to consider the current state of things, to efficiently cut out all unnecessary items.

 

Step 5: Make changes to your meeting culture

While leaders must prioritize trimming their meeting invite lists, they can also improve company culture to allow more people to decline meetings they shouldn’t be attending.

Two important steps to achieve this are to teach our team members to establish boundaries and prioritize their own work with a great deal of autonomy, so they can push back when their own goals and milestones supersede such meetings. Doing so will drive managers to rethink informal “ad-hoc” engagements that don’t do so much.

High-quality meeting notes with a summary of action points. sent alongside the meeting invites are also super helpful. They can help our teams fully understand the reasons and relevance of the meeting, further making it easier for them to accept or decline where necessary.

 

Step 6: Revamp communications all around

Getting rid of meetings may also create the temptation to push every random idea, or thought into informal “one-to-one meetings” among team members and colleagues. This in turn will cause a lot of time to be spent in “back-and-forth” and less time spent making that saved time to account for more. The real issue with meeting culture isn’t just the amount of meetings, it is the gap in communications.

Hence, we must train employees and leaders alike to prioritize collaboration but ensure they communicate in the best way without disrupting deep work. Again granting autonomy plays an important role here as giving employees more control over their work and its outcome, will push them to set better boundaries, interact when necessary, and be more productive.

Step 7: Conduct meeting audits regularly

Meeting audits allow you to go over how, what, and why you have those amounts of meetings to discover if they are too few, too many, or just right. Make a list of meetings you lead or attend and ask yourself these questions; do attendees prepare for meetings? Are decisions being made in these meetings? How have these meetings brought about particular outcomes? Would there be consequences if you stopped attending?

Feedbacks are also a great tool for your meeting audit. Through feedback from actual attendees, it’s easier to discover what’s being done right with your meetings among other things.

 

Final thoughts: get rid of the temptations to have too many meetings

Meetings are highly important to any organization. But they should never take over valuable time that should be spent accomplishing things.

That said, modifying your meeting culture to achieve the right balance in meetings takes time.

By repeatedly taking steps, you can set just the right amount of meetings to foster deep communication and collaboration without derailing the need to get work done.