How Managers Can Prevent Their Teams From Spending Too Much Time In Meetings

Managers need to protect a team's productivity and morale
Managers need to protect a team’s productivity and morale
Image Credit: Zach Graves

So here’s an important question for managers: how much of your week do you spend in meetings? I suspect that the answer is probably “A lot.” Too often back-to-back meetings are becoming the norm throughout the business world, leaving everyone frazzled and farther behind at the end of each day. We need to ask ourselves why does this happen? It sure seems as though pointless recurring meetings are one kind of calendar crud. Just as bad are ad-hoc meetings – those meetings that aren’t planned but get added whenever something comes up. Taken together, all of these meetings can easily quickly take over your calendar no matter how good your manager skills are. How can a manager help their team deal with this overflow of meetings?

Start Things Off By Establishing A “Bullpen”

Managers who use a “bullpen” dedicate time and space for all the conversations that don’t have a home in the other meetings. This technique can be used as a communications “escape valve.”

To prevent the kind of calendar mayhem so common these days, a manager can use their manager training to implement a meeting system. The system reserves meeting time each week for making sure everyone is up to speed on the latest developments and for making big decisions. But even though they have meetings planned to handle most of what they need to discuss, stuff still comes up. That’s where the idea of the Bullpen comes in.

When you are using this technique, there are no set topics for a weekly Bullpen and only one rule: you have to be there. When the team knows that they have the Bullpen coming, where they’ll all be in the same place and free to talk soon, they will bring all those ad-hoc conversations there instead of scheduling a lot of separate meetings. The result of this is that it’s often one of the most productive hours a team might spend each week.

When You Schedule Recurring Meetings Include An Expiration Date

The specter of a lot of reoccurring meetings is something that can strike fear in the heart of any manager. When people schedule a recurring meeting, they’ll set it to repeat indefinitely forever. Things can get weird if they should later leave the company, that meeting continues to keep a lock on the best conference room and other people’s calendar long after they’re gone. Alternatively they don’t leave the company, but they also never cancel the meeting. The result of this is that everyone continues to trudge in each week and grumble through the motions, not knowing what else to do.

One way to prevent this problem is by scheduling recurring meetings that go for no longer than 90 days. Managers can also end recurring meetings at all the natural breakpoints, like summer and winter holidays. The result of this is that you’ll be making a conscious decision every 90 days (at a minimum, and often sooner) about how you want to invest your time.

If you can implement a plan like this, the result is that it will quickly do away with any zombie meetings and will have added benefits. As an example, you may have a meeting that meets once per week. But because your weekly meeting expires on your calendars every 90 days, you won’t be mindlessly running the same meeting you ran last year or even last quarter. You will continually adjust the timing and structure for that meeting as your work evolves.

Make Sure To Block Out Meeting-Free Zones On The Calendar.

You don’t have to be in meetings all of the time. Managers need to designate meeting-free time each week. By doing this you’ll be denying useless meetings open space where they can grow. In order to accomplish this you need to designate at least four hours and up to two days per week as off-limits for meetings. By doing this you will make meeting time more precious, as it suddenly becomes a scarcer resource, and forces everyone to think more carefully about how they spend that time. If you do team-level time blocking like then you will be giving everyone in your group dedicated time to complete focus work, making it possible for them to get into the flow.

What All Of This Means For You

Meetings are both useful and a potential waste of everyone’s time. As a manager it is your job to find ways to make sure that the meeting monster does not consume the members of your team. If you use these three suggestions that we’ve covered as a way to do team building then they will go a long way towards preventing calendar bloat, and the best news is that you don’t have to choose just one of them to implement.

If you take the time and Implement all three of these suggestions then you’ll quickly see that your calendar will start to show only the recurring meetings that your team needs right now. You’ll also be able to see dedicated time for individual focus work. You’ll have a simple way to handle other stuff that comes up, and a whole lot more control and sanity for your workweek.

If you can both tame the meeting monster and find a way to help your team focus on the work that they have to do, then you will have been successful as a manager. Take the time to implement these suggestions and then sit back and see the impact that it will have on your team. Now all you have to do is to determine what you want to do with all of the free time that you’ll have!

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

Question For You: Do you think that there should be a limit to the number of meetings that you attend each day?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

The Covid-19 pandemic caused just about every office to shut down and close their doors. Each member of your team started working from home and as a manager you had a whole new set of issues that you had to work through in order to keep your team both together and productive. However, now things are once again starting to change. The arrival of a vaccine has allowed business to once again consider having their workers come back into the office. However, from a manager point of view this is going to require us to have a new set of skills.