Let’s not meet: The impact of too many meetings.

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Let’s not meet: The impact of too many meetings.

Posted by: Phil Kelly
Category: Articles
too many meetings

You have a meeting to make a decision, not to decide on the question.” – Bill Gates

Have you ever left a meeting lamenting why you could not have just had the same discussion via email? If so, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that around 72% of all workplace meetings are considered ineffective, according to a recent survey.

Unnecessary meetings are actually a costly activity for businesses. The UK Business Portal shared that, while less tangible costs are hard to quantify, you can still get an accurate cost of a meeting by adding up the direct wages costs of the employees involved. They formulated that an average of 150 meetings a year, featuring six employees who earn between £25 and £40 per hour, costs around £42,000 in terms of time spent.

Meetings are, of course, an important part of our professional lives. At their best, they can be essential platforms for collaboration, decision-making, and communication. Yet, many meetings are not only ineffective but counterproductive, costly, and detrimental to staff engagement. What’s more, an overload of unnecessary and unproductive meetings can lead to burnout.

Burnout should be of concern to all employers; it impacts productivity, morale, and overall staff wellbeing. Meetings can contribute to burnout by inducing stress, fatigue, and decreased productivity.

Meeting overload can be attributed to several factors. As managers and leaders, you must work to understand the causes and impact of meeting overload and explore strategies to mitigate its effects.

The most prevalent factor is too frequent scheduling. Frequent meetings disrupt the flow of work and limit the time employees can spend on their projects and tasks. But it is not just about time – it’s about energy. 76% of workers agree they feel drained on days when they have a lot of meetings.

As managers and leaders, you must work to understand the causes and impact of meeting overload and explore strategies to mitigate its effects.

Too many meetings, especially back-to-back meetings, require employees to constantly switch contexts and thinking patterns. This can deplete mental resources and make it harder to focus and complete tasks efficiently.

With the rise of remote working, there is also an increase in technology fatigue. Virtual meetings are the norm for many of us and, while convenient, they come with their own set of challenges, including screen fatigue, technical issues, and a lack of non-verbal cues, all contributing to the burnout experience. collaboration, innovation, acculturation, and dedication are difficult to replicate virtually and sustain without some face-to-face interaction.

The repercussions of experiencing burnout are extensive for both individuals and organisations. Overwhelmed employees are prone to disengagement, displaying reduced enthusiasm and commitment to their responsibilities. Prolonged burnout may impel employees to seek alternative employment, resulting in elevated turnover rates and associated costs for organisations.

So, how can you better manage your meetings?

Prioritise and streamline: Evaluate the necessity of each meeting. Cancel or consolidate redundant ones, and use alternative communication methods, such as email or Teams, for information sharing.

Set an agenda: Meetings should have a “purpose, agenda, result.” Agendas are especially useful for keeping discussions on track, organised, and for engaging attendees fully. It gives everyone a chance to prepare and bring their ideas to the table.

Limit meeting length and frequency: Implement policies to limit the duration of meetings. Similarly, ensure there is time between meetings when possible, allowing for people to reset and refocus their energy. This also allows employees to have uninterrupted blocks of time for focused work.

Prioritise your face-to-face time together: Collaboration, innovation, engagement, and acculturation are difficult to replicate virtually. With the rise of remote working, there is also an increase in technology fatigue. Virtual meetings, while convenient, come with their own set of challenges, including screen fatigue, technical issues, and a lack of non-verbal cues, all contributing to the burnout experience. Consider face-to-face meetings if you can plan for them well, being sure you make the most of people’s time together.

Have a headcount: Deciding who to include in a meeting can be tough at times, but too many attendees can unknowingly decrease the quality of the meeting. Robert Sutton, a professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford University, looked at the research on group size and concluded that the most productive meetings contain only five to eight people. Smaller groups, help build a sense of intimacy that opens the floor to a candid discussion while larger groups often result in less preparation, participation, and action.

Empower your employees: Encourage employees to take control of their schedules. Allow them to decline unnecessary meetings and suggest alternative approaches for achieving the same goals.

Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, famously sent out an email to staff at his Tesla 3 Plant encouraging them to “Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value…

“It is not rude to leave,” he added, “It is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”

Hold people accountable: “You want attendees to think, ‘I always know that the action items in this meeting are going to come to fruition and I’m going to be asked about it at the next meeting if I don’t get it done or there’s going to be some circle back’ says Laura Mae Martin, Google’s executive productivity advisor.

Promote good practice: Encourage leaders to model good meeting practices and recognise teams that manage their meeting loads effectively. By doing so, you will foster an organisational culture that values efficiency and respects your employees’ time. Encourage leaders to model good meeting practices and recognise teams that manage their meeting loads effectively.

Ultimately, your goal should be to create an environment where meetings serve their intended purpose without overwhelming those who participate in them. By understanding the impact of meeting overload and implementing strategies to streamline meetings, organisations can enhance productivity, boost employee engagement, and foster a healthier work culture.

 

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Author: Phil Kelly
An award-winning business owner and TED presenter, Phil lives and breaths performance. Having designed and delivered successful training packages across various industries worldwide, he now spends most of his time within business development and consulting. Phil Kelly