February 8, 2022

Is it me, or does it seem like we have more meetings now than before the pandemic?

Despite acknowledging ‘zoom fatigue,’ I find my calendar chock full of meetings.

Today I have seven meetings (totaling 8 hours) and only 3 of them have established structure or an agenda. The other four are, as a friend put it, “free form jazz odysseys.”

That leaves me with one hour to work on priority projects.

Last week, one leader confessed he had 50 meetings in one week. We both agreed that is not sustainable.

How can we get our work done and make progress on our priorities if we’re in meetings all the time?

Simple answer: we can’t.

Meetings (about meetings) are a poor proxy for getting things done

Jokes about meetings to plan meetings are based on reality.

I know this because I recently experienced a series of three meetings to plan and prepare for the fourth. I’m only slightly surprised we didn’t hold a meeting after the meeting to review the meeting.

It finally dawned on me they used these meetings as an inefficient proxy for work.

By scheduling the session, putting up a slide deck, and asking a large group of people to comment, it seemed like progress.

Progress at what cost?

You can’t give me time back (or replace my drained energy)

Endless meetings are exhausting. It takes a lot of mental energy to sit, listen, and process what’s happening. Often it seems like the same tired script runs each meeting, as we rehash previous decisions and engage in professional navel-gazing.

With our energy drained, the offer of “getting time back” doesn’t help.

Once the time is gone, it’s gone.

Stopping everything to “jump on a call” breaks our flow and causes us to switch tasks. The more we do this, the more attention residue builds up.

Exhaustion sets in, and the false gift of 5-10 minutes back does nothing to help us get work done.

Are meetings the new status symbol?

I’m old enough to remember when you ‘made it’ when the company presented you with the digital leash, er, I mean pager. Then it was how many messages you have in your inbox as the faux status symbol.

Is attendance at endless meetings the new proxy for importance in the organization?

Deciding who to invite to a meeting is now more a challenge than necessary. I witness people agonize over whether to invite people to their meeting. While some of this is the fear of missing someone important, it’s also taking the politics of the organization into consideration and sometimes calling people in as a power play.

As a result, we end up with the wrong people at the right meetings, sometimes just to show up and get counted as attending to get seen.

Do meetings give people the wrong idea?

Including too many people in too many meetings allows everyone to be a little involved in everything, without needing to own any of it. Somehow, this gives people the sense that they can and need to be more involved in your work and the work of others.

Just this morning, a friend explained how this happens to them (and I’m going to tread carefully here with most details removed). Basically, one group pulls another into their meetings. The first group feels compelled and empowered to comment and dictate actions normally not in their purview. It creates a false sense of important and generates a lot of friction.

Friction erodes value, destroys trust, and burns people out. As friction builds, projects slow and grind to a halt.

Why are we meeting again?

There are good reasons to bring people together. Sometimes we need the input and collaboration that only happens when we’re working together at the same time.

Too often, we schedule a meeting before giving ourselves the time and space to think and do the work. It means we don’t get work done that we feel good about and readily contribute. Instead, we end up fumbling through another day of endless meetings, getting a little more disconnected from our value.

What if we meet only when necessary and for the shortest time possible?

I propose we schedule fewer meetings and create more space to get our work done.

When we meet, let’s make sure it’s absolutely necessary, as short as possible, and meets three criteria:

  1. Defined purpose. Explain why we need to meet and who needs to be there.
  2. Meeting plan. Start with an agenda or structure to explain what will happen during the meeting and where and when we’ll meet.
  3. Preparation. Based on the purpose and plan, invitees know what we expect and how to prepare, so they can show up ready to go.

Fewer meetings hopefully create more time to think, get stuff done, and deliver value faster.

About the Author Michael Santarcangelo

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.

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