Death by meeting?

Are you suffering from “death by meeting”? During the pandemic, consistent feedback is people are often back-to-back in meetings from dawn to dusk.

Have you noticed your meeting load has increased and are you burning out from Zoom fatigue? Is this a pandemic and work-from-home phenomena or has the upward trend of meetings been increasing for years? Like the “frog in a pot of heating water”, are we just now recognizing it as we reach a breaking point? Is it time for a reset?

While the pandemic and work-from-home is a contributor, I believe this phenomena has been building and it is time to do a “meeting cull”. No different than cleaning out your closest when you have accumulated too much stuff, it is time to re-assess your weekly and monthly calendar to determine what meetings are a priority in the context of your job and your objectives.

Here are some easy places to start:

Pre-scheduled meetings that have a regular weekly, biweekly, or monthly cadence.

In the past few years, a regularly scheduled 1:1 meetings with your boss, your employees, or co-workers have become the norm. Ask yourself if the meeting duration and frequency of these are still correct? Are the meetings still adding the value that they once did?

If you have eight employees and are currently meeting with each for one hour a week plus a 1-hour team meeting, that is 20% of your work week committed before the week starts. Is this the correct allocation of your time or are you over-meeting with your team? Are you ‘co-piloting” with your team members on their job versus “coaching” and holding them accountable for their outcomes and objectives”? Could a 30 minute check-in replace a 1-hour meeting? Is meeting bi-weekly a more appropriate cadence?

I was discussing this issue with a “C-level” executive last week. She has given permission and encourages her team to cancel 1:1’s with her if the meeting is not required this week.

When you add in pre-scheduled 1:1’s with others, cross functional team meetings, townhalls, corporate meetings, and so on, you may find that 30 or 40% of your quarterly capacity is committed. Are we being critical enough on what meetings we accept to attend?

Have meetings grown in size?

A meeting was created to deal with an issue or initiative. It started with a half dozen attendees but over time, more attendees were invited because their expertise or involvement was required. Now two years later, the regular attendee list is over 20 people. Does this sound familiar?

Scrub your calendar. A leader shared with me that one of his meetings had grown from 15 people to over 40 and that he was cancelling the meeting and re-formatting to a smaller group.

If you own the meeting invitation list, decide if the meeting is still required or has it outgrown its usefulness? If still required, who needs to continue attending and who can be disinvited?

If you are an attendee, does the meeting value still justify your time? If not, respectfully withdraw from attending the meeting. Alternatively, evaluate if one of your team members could attend in your place and if so, delegate.

Implement the 3-question meeting rule.

Another “C-level” executive articulated that he has a 3-question rule for meetings.

If you cannot answer these questions, he is not attending.

Are cameras on?

If a participant has their camera turned off, is it because they are having a bad hair day, or is it because they are only partially engaged in the meeting while they also respond to emails or do other work? If so, is this person really getting value out of the meeting or contributing in the way that was intended? Can this person be excused from the meeting and removed from the invitation list?

Set meeting size relative to the purpose of the meeting.

Is it reasonable to expect a meeting of 15 people to make decisions efficiently or should decision-making meetings be limited to a handful of attendees? When IBM did its major downsizing in the early 1990’s, the staff in many headquarter departments were reduced by half. Afterwards, in many areas, productivity went up because of less meetings. Versus the past, when numerous meetings had to be held to reach consensus, now with fewer people left, they were able to make decisions quicker.

Do information sharing meetings need to include everyone or can information be shared to a smaller group and then cascaded down through their team meetings rather than adding another town hall meeting to everyone’s schedule? How often do we need to schedule a townhall or could the information be shared in an email?

There is no universal answer to the questions above, but it is a potential missed opportunity if we don’t periodically ask them.

The challenge of time management is not a new phenomenon. It and prioritization of workload remain top concerns for all of us and requires critical thinking to overcome. With Spring on its way, maybe it is time for a spring cleaning and culling of our calendars to overcome “death by meeting”.

© 2021 Meaford Group

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