The Perception of Too Many Meetings

The Problem: Meeting Overload

In many organizations, there is a growing perception that employees are burdened with too many meetings. This perception is not unfounded, as research indicates that executives now spend nearly 23 hours a week in meetings, a significant increase from the 1960s when it was less than 10 hours[2]. This increase in meeting time can lead to several negative outcomes, including decreased productivity, employee dissatisfaction, and burnout.

Causes of Excessive Meetings

Several factors contribute to the proliferation of meetings:

  1. Lack of Trust: In some workplaces, a lack of trust among team members leads to frequent check-ins and updates, resulting in numerous meetings [3].
  2. Over-Reliance on Meetings for Communication: Some organizations default to meetings as the primary mode of communication, even when other methods might be more efficient [3].
  3. Micromanagement: Inexperienced entrepreneurs or managers may micromanage their teams, leading to unnecessary meetings [3].
  4. Lack of Clarity: Lack of Clarity: When goals, objectives, roles and expectations are not clearly defined and communicated, meetings are often used to repeatedly clarify and align on tasks, leading to an overload.

Impact and Satisfaction

With Michael, we picked the subtitle of our book, I am a Software Engineer and I am in Charge, to reflect what we believed were the most important things to achieve. The subtitle is The book that helps increase your impact and satisfaction at work. It appears clearly that excessive meetings led to the exact opposite.

Excessive meetings lead to employee dissatisfaction and burnout, as they often feel their time is wasted and their work is neglected. This not only reduces job satisfaction but also disengages employees from their roles.

Moreover, poorly timed or managed meetings can severely hinder productivity, preventing employees from completing their tasks efficiently.

Toxic One-on-One Vicious Circle

When a leader distributes context and information solely through one-on-one meetings, it can create a toxic cycle. These meetings often expand to include additional tasks and allow direct reports to voice complaints about their peers. In an attempt to address these issues, the leader may conduct even more one-on-one meetings, which can lead to mistrust and dysfunction within the team. This approach fosters a lack of transparency, as important information is not shared openly with the entire team, and it can create an environment where gossip and backchannel communications thrive. Ultimately, this cycle undermines team cohesion, erodes trust, and hampers overall effectiveness.

Strategies to Reduce Meeting Overload

I often experiment with strategies to reduce meeting overload with leaders and leadership teams.

First, identify the categories of meetings you currently have. Reviewing your last quarter calendar, consider the following categories and feel free to add any additional categories relevant to your organization:

  • Leadership Team Meetings: Regular meetings with the team to discuss progress, issues, and team dynamics. Define the details of these meetings for clarity.
  • One-on-One Meetings: Individual meetings between managers and their direct reports for personalized feedback, coaching, and development.
  • Issue Resolution: Meetings addressing specific problems, challenges, or crises.
  • Client/Stakeholder Meetings: Meetings with customers or external stakeholders.
  • Social/Team Building: Informal meetings or activities to build team cohesion and morale.
  • Information Sharing: Meetings primarily focused on disseminating information, updates, or announcements without significant discussion or decision-making.
  • Networking/Industry Events: Meetings aimed at networking, attending industry conferences, or engaging with the broader community.

Second, analyze your time invested in each category during the last quarter.

Third, consider what you want instead of the current situation based on this observation.

Fourth, determine the first step to take to achieve this future state.

About the Future State

Here are a few things to consider when reflecting on the future state:

  • Understand Meeting Categories: Clarify the meeting categories and assess their necessity.
  • Use Collaboration Tools and Work Asynchronously: Share documents and gather feedback using collaboration tools to reduce the need for lengthy review meetings AND Get a clear agreement on how to use those tools [5]
  • Delegate and Ensure the Right People Are in the Room: Delegating and ensuring that only essential participants attend meetings can enhance efficiency, promote better decision-making, and ensure the time spent in meetings is productive and focused.
  • Clear Agendas and Time Limits: Ensure every meeting has a clear agenda and set time limits to keep discussions on track [4].
  • Avoid Back-to-Back Meetings: Continuous meetings without breaks deprive individuals of downtime, reduce focus and attention, limit time for reflection and follow-up, contribute to overloaded schedules, diminish creativity, and lower motivation [1].

Citations:
[1] https://www.touchpoint.com/blog/too-many-meetings/
[2] https://hbr.org/2017/07/stop-the-meeting-madness
[3] https://tms-outsource.com/blog/posts/too-many-meetings/
[4] https://hbr.org/2022/03/dear-manager-youre-holding-too-many-meetings
[5] https://alexis.monville.com/en/2016/03/09/let-us-code/

Photo de Jon Tyson