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Meetings have become a real problem in many organizations. They’re not inherently bad, of course, but the sheer volume of meetings can make getting real work done a challenge. And many of these meetings are extraneous—they’re simply unnecessary, or they could be avoided with better planning.
In fact, a Microsoft survey found “too many meetings” to be employees’ primary workplace challenge. Meetings now consume more than half of a typical work week—a whopping 21.5 hours out of every 40. Meanwhile, feelings of social connection and collaboration have not kept pace with the rise in meetings.
New managers are especially prone to book too many meetings—they hold one-third more meetings than experienced colleagues, writes HBR. And the convenience of virtual meetings likely contributes to the rise in meetings we’re seeing.
Having no more meetings isn’t the answer; avoiding unproductive meetings is. Let’s discuss how to reduce meetings in the workplace—as well as ineffective meetings—so you can get more done in less time.
What are the problems with having too many meetings at work?
Many employees are caught up in a never-ending cycle of back-to-back meetings, leaving too little time to do their actual work. In fact, research shows that 70% of all meetings stop teams from doing their work, writes HBR. Groups can get caught up in an endless cycle of talking about ideas in unproductive meetings without actually taking action.
If every micro-decision must wait for the next meeting, nothing will get done. Some teams unintentionally create a culture of checking in with the group about everything and anything. Teams that fall into this trap have trouble carrying out projects on schedule because they’re unable to adapt to minor hurdles in the moment.
Certain team members may grow especially frustrated by endless meetings. While they’re ready to dive in and take action, meetings constrict them and limit their contributions. They believe that meetings are a waste of time, and their frustrations may even cause them to consider leaving the organization, creating dysfunctional turnover.
A meeting—especially a virtual one—doesn’t always provide the best format for communication. Often individual team members simply need to check in with one or two people about a particular issue. But not everyone feels comfortable speaking up about their challenges in a group setting, voicing opinions, or steering dialogue. Or, they may have trouble finding the right moment. So, important concerns may get lost. In many cases, a one-on-one or small group chat will more effectively address issues than a big-group meeting.
If you’re reading this article, we’re probably preaching to the choir. But the stats shared above can help you explain to colleagues or leaders why you need to tame your meeting schedule. Now, let’s look at how to reduce meetings and improve the quality of the ones you do hold.
Strong leadership can keep a team from wasting time in meetings. These strategies will not only help you tame the volume of meetings at your workplace; they’ll also improve the quality of your meetings. Less is more when it comes to scheduling meetings. Let’s explore how to hold fewer meetings that are more productive.
Determine your goal for a particular meeting. Then ask yourself if a meeting is the best way to achieve that goal. If so, set a clear agenda and share it with the team in advance, along with the goal. Allocate a certain amount of time to each topic. Throughout the meeting, stick to the agenda closely and ask one person to serve as timekeeper, letting you know when it’s time to move on to the next item.
The whole team may not need to attend a particular meeting. Start a practice of inviting just those who truly need to be present to discuss a project or make decisions.
Prior to the meeting, gather key data related to each agenda item. You don’t want to be fumbling for metrics in the moment. Ask particular individuals to bring data or observations on an issue they know a lot about. For bigger decisions, produce reports using analytics software to inform decision-making. This “prework” will make meetings more efficient.
Let each person know what types of decisions they can make without group approval. Empower them to decide how they’ll carry out the work assigned to them, for instance. You’ll have a more agile team when they can think and act independently.
Team members must also know the proper channels to go through with specific concerns. Their question may require a simple check-in with another team member rather than an all-hands meeting. But too often, employees don’t understand one another’s strengths and specializations. Creating an organizational and team-level chart that briefly shares everyone’s role and contact info will help them communicate efficiently.
By establishing milestones in advance, you’ll know when you’re on track—and what steps come next. So, you won’t have to hold a meeting just to reassess next steps. Monitor progress and share updates outside of meetings. When your team reaches key milestones, share the news by email or another platform.
At times, employees may simply need to quickly bounce ideas off one another as they work on a project. Collaborative work sessions foster that connection while employees carry out their productive work. Remote teams can simply sign onto a video chat or another collaborative platform that enables real-time discussion during certain hours each day or week.
Likewise, managers can be available for “office hours” during regular time blocks, when employees can drop in for a quick check-in.
By taking these steps, you’ll be using meetings as a strategic tool. They serve a valuable purpose when used wisely. The meetings you do need will become more efficient and meaningful, while you’ll avoid wasting time on those that just aren’t necessary. Steering clear of ineffective meetings can have a profound effect on morale and productivity, not to mention job satisfaction!
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