I have back-to-back meetings all day….
My manager has meetings that are double booked…
If I say no to meetings then I worry my views won’t be represented

Managing our energy and working efficiently are key resilience competencies. However, we hear constant feedback that many people find meetings energy depleting, that they feel they need to attend too many meetings and that it is difficult to get “business as usual” work done in between meetings.

Too many meetings, especially those energy depleting ones, are certainly not useful for improving productivity nor are they helpful for individual wellbeing. How can we fix this problem?

In our experience, solutions ideally involve shared initiatives across teams and business units. Significant change in meeting culture is more likely to occur when leaders work with other leaders to agree on effective meeting protocols and ways of working, and ensure that the initiatives are maintained.

A “meeting audit” can be a useful starting point. Collecting some data on how many meetings are occurring―and why―provides actual information rather than simply relying on people’s perceptions.

The data from the meeting audit can then be reviewed and compared with preferred ways of working. Are meetings helping or hindering achievement of goals and outcomes for the business? Are they in line with key strategy for the business? If not, why are they occurring?

Other initiatives we have been involved with that have been effective include:

  • Agreement on specific time periods for no meetings―for example, meeting-free Wednesdays or no-meeting Thursday afternoons
  • Reviewing the length of meetings. Does any meeting need to be 15 minutes, 30 minutes? 45?
  • Regular reviews if a meeting is scheduled for longer than 45 minutes. Does it need to be this length? What’s the purpose of the meeting? What is the desired outcome?
  • How often do regular meetings need to happen?
  • Regular reviews also of who needs to be at particular meetings.
  • Ensuring there is always an effective chair for each meeting. Who will chair the meeting and make sure the agenda is followed and each person’s views are heard?
  • Changing the venue or form―can the meeting be a standing or walking meeting? These have a dual purpose of being better for people’s health than sitting meetings and tend to help with time efficiency!

From our experience again, an experimental approach is essential for effectively shifting meeting behaviour and culture. This means collecting data, experimenting with different strategies, reviewing these, adopting them if they are successful, experimenting again if they are not. It’s a process of continual revision and improvement.

Sharing successes and innovations that work across business units and sharing effective strategies with other organisations is also helpful.