Too Many Meetings? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I’ve recently been promoted to my first managerial role. Prior to my promotion, I had been an individual contributor here for more than 14 years.

My new role has me climbing a steep learning curve because I am not working in the same group I had been in before. I’m not worried about being able to do the new work; however, it has been very challenging. In addition to learning the job and getting to know my team, I’m in meetings five to six hours each day.

The time I’m spending in meetings is causing me to fall behind in my individual work and in responding to email, not to mention that it leaves me very little time for working with my direct reports or thinking strategically.

To keep up, I’ve been logging in for one to three hours every night after my kids go to bed to answer emails, get work organized, etc. I usually spend time working on the weekend as well. I don’t think this is physically sustainable.

Any advice on reducing meetings? I am sure if there were fewer meetings in the day I could get more real and substantive work completed.

Sleepless in Philadelphia

Dear Sleepless,

Congratulations on your promotion. You probably didn’t realize you were signing up for meeting purgatory. Meetings are the scourge of the modern workplace, there is no doubt.

How did we get here? As organizations have flattened and become more matrixed, most of us are on several different teams and have several dotted line reporting responsibilities. And business has become more complex, which means everyone needs to stay abreast of fast paced change. However, it is the organizations who move from complexity to simplicity who are going to win in the future.

So mastering the meeting thing is a key move to helping your organization be more nimble, which would be extremely valuable.

It doesn’t sound as if you are experiencing a lot of value from these meetings, so it is entirely probable that people included in most of them have simply gotten lulled into the habit of meeting. It really is up to the leader of the meeting to answer the following:

  • What is the purpose of this meeting?
  • Is the purpose still critical?
  • Is this meeting actually achieving the original purpose?
  • If no, what needs to change?
  • If yes, could the purpose be achieved in less time, or with less frequent meetings?
  • Are the right people in this meeting?
  • Does the meeting start and end on time?
  • Does each meeting have a clear agenda?

If some of these endless meetings are led by you because your predecessor held them, you have the power to change them. Forge ahead! Make change!

Even as the newbie in meetings led by others, you have a few choices:

  1. Do nothing and suffer.
  2. Accept that this is the way things are done at your organization and figure out how to get all of your other tasks done in less time.

And…my favorite:

  1. Educate yourself on how to eliminate as many meetings as possible and how to make the remaining ones more valuable. Designate yourself as the proponent for meeting reform in your business area. Become an expert on good meetings. Build a plan to get buy-in and support from all stakeholders and create a new culture of meetings. I can’t imagine that everyone isn’t as fed up as you are – who isn’t begging for meetings that are interesting, productive, useful, and—dare I say it—fun? You would be doing your organization a huge favor.

There are several excellent resources to help you up your meeting acumen:

Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni. He says there are really only four kinds of meetings anyone needs: The Daily Check-In (I have been on fast moving project teams that held “Black Jack” meetings—no more than 21 minutes long!), The Weekly Tactical, The Monthly or Ad Hoc Strategic, and the occasional Off Site Review. Lencioni talks about how to make meetings meaningful and engaging through proper planning and encouraging participation.

Another great resource is The Hamster Revolution for Meetings by Mike Song, Vicki Halsey, and Tim Burress. The authors offer some great tips, including making sure there is an objective and agenda for each and every meeting, and how to deal with common types who derail meetings. This book also addresses the absurdity of many virtual meetings.

There are many wonderful resources out there if you just ask our BFF, Google. You will recognize the good suggestions especially quickly if you know what problems your organization really needs to solve.

You are probably thinking that you can’t possibly add this task to your already overloaded schedule, and you are probably right. So discuss it with your boss—it might spark some energy for change. If you do take it on, take things slow but stick with it and don’t give up. There could be no more worthy cause.



About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

2 thoughts on “Too Many Meetings? Ask Madeleine

  1. Keep working, get yourself promoted again so you’re in charge of meetings and then start cancelling them.
    Or speak to the people who are in charge and ask those very good questions, the first of which is why so many meetings? Death by meeting could be a new book if it hasn’t already been written.
    Best thing I ever did one time was to begin a meeting by cancelling it and asking everyone to go back and finish what they were working on when they stopped to come to the meeting. Then next time we meet, everyone bring a note about how that experience affected them.

    • Gary, I love these ideas. Especially the get promoted until you have enough seniority to cancel them, that made me laugh! Death by Meeting is a book, by Patrick Lencioni – I love it when authors nail it in the title!
      Thanks for the very fun input.

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