Managers Have To Do Something About Too Many Meetings

Too many meetings can kill team productivity
Too many meetings can kill team productivity
Image Credit: UBC Learning Commons

One of the roles of being a manager is to find ways to make your team more productive. Hmm, maybe I should say that a different way. One of your roles is to prevent things from making your team less productive. Even since the pandemic wrapped up, we have all of sudden been having more and more face-to-face meetings. It’s almost like we want to do what we could not do for a year. However, these meetings are starting to kill everyone’s productivity. What is a manager to do?

The Problem With Overloaded Schedules

As managers we can think back through the past couple of years and try to remember what our work life was like. Can you remember bumping into colleagues on your way to get a coffee or leaning over someone’s shoulder to talk through a problem? Do you remember when Zoom was just an occasional tool rather than a way of life? Now try to picture your work life these days. While some of us may be heading back to the office, the chances are that many of those pre-pandemic real-life encounters have moved online for good. The result of all of this is that your schedule is even more jam-packed than before the pandemic. Keep in mind that back then we were already complaining about meeting bloat).

So what’s up with this shift toward ever more meetings doing to both your calendar and your productivity? A new report analyzing data from 15,000 managers paints an alarming picture for all of us. It turns out that over half our workweeks are now being spent in meetings. According to the study’s numbers, the average manager spent 14.2 hours in meetings before the pandemic. Now we’re spending 21.5 hours. I think that we can all agree that that’s a pretty big leap. However, the numbers look even grimmer when you zoom in on the sort of one-to-one Zoom check-ins that have replaced our random office encounters and quick drop-in visits of the pre-Covid past.

One-on-one meetings have been driving the pandemic meeting inflation, accounting for up to 79.6 percent of new meetings. The average manager had 5.6 one-on-one meetings per week, up from 0.9. Every week, many of us now have 4.7 more one-on-ones than before the pandemic hit. Understand that this is a more than 500 percent increase. This has lead one-on-ones to eat up 8.9 percent of the typical manager’s calendar. The only good news out of all of these alarming statistics is that it was found that the length of each one-on-one meeting is starting to decrease as workers learn to jump on quick calls rather than schedule hefty half-hour or greater time slots. The less formal one-on-ones can actually be quite useful.

Fixing The Problem

We’re facing a pretty grim picture right now. With meetings eating up more than half of our traditional 40-hour workweek and the average manager slogging through 25 meetings a week, it’s sorta incredible that we manage to get anything substantive accomplished at all. What’s can be done? There is the usual sensible advice about auditing your calendar for any zombie meetings that no longer need to be there and making sure that you schedule only the time you need. Does that check-in with your team need to be every week, for instance, or could be every 10 days? Could you squeeze everything you need to say to your team into 10 minutes rather than 30?

The problem is that you’ve probably heard all those tips before, though, and still struggle to rein in your meetings. Why is this? The answer is that the real issue isn’t lack of knowledge or the wrong tools, it’s our human psychology. We need to dig into the psychological roots of meeting bloat, identifying the six reasons that we fill up our calendars with pointless get-togethers.

These reasons can include what is called Meeting FOMO (“Fear of missing out”). I believe that this one is pretty self-explanatory. We also use meetings as commitment devices. We will use meetings as tools to nudge people to follow through on their promises by giving them a date they’ll have to fill their manager in on their progress. We need to realize that the meeting itself is often unnecessary, with people simply reporting on how they did or didn’t achieve the agreed-upon target. There is also the mere urgency effect. When we are stressed, completing seemingly urgent tasks that turn out to be actually unimportant can provide some relief. Scheduling and attending meetings can make us feel like we’ve really accomplished something. What this means is that we’re often loath to decline or cancel them, even if they are objectively not as important as our other work. When we understand these deeper causes of our metastasizing meeting schedule, we’ll be in a far better position to prune them back.

What All Of This Means For You

I think that we can all agree that a manager’s most valuable possession is their time. Prior to the pandemic, none of us felt that we had enough time to get everything that we needed to get done done. However, now that the pandemic has hit and everyone has had to start working from home, somehow our lives seem to have become even busier. The problem seems to be that we now have even more meetings than we ever had before.

It turns out that a lot of the adjustments that were made while the pandemic raged may not be going away. One of these changes is the arrival of the video conference. Add that to all of the face-to-face meetings that we’ll be invited to once we’re back in the office and all of a sudden your schedule has become full again. All of these calls can quickly take up a manger’s time. This is despite the fact that people are starting to learn that they need to make their meetings shorter than they used to be. As managers we need to start to look for ways that we can make the meetings that we go to shorter. We also have to understand that there are six reasons that can cause us to allow our schedules to fill up. We need to take steps to win our time back.

The first step in fixing our new “out of time” problem is becoming aware that we have a problem. Once we realize this, we then need to be willing to take steps to change the way that things currently are. Not all of the meetings that we are finding ourselves in are important. We need to prioritize them and make sure that we are spending our time in ways that can benefit both ourselves and our teams. Taking the time and making the effort to win back control over our time is a new high priority tasks for managers.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: How can managers start to say “No” when they are invited to meetings that they don’t want to attend?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’m hoping that every manager out there understands that we all have to be networking all the time. This means that we have to put a smile on our faces and go out there and meet new people. The reason that we do this is so that if at some point in the future we need to know who these people are, we’ll be able to reach out to them as a resource. However, if we go about doing this the wrong way, we can end up feeling “dirty” and not pleased with ourselves. What’s the right way for a manager to network?