Back-to-back meetings

From time to time when I’m booking appointments, someone will say to me, “I’m in back-to-back meetings all day”. It can happen to anyone. 

But if someone says that same thing to me regularly or, worse still, says, “I’m in back-to-back meetings all day every day”, it rings an alarm bell in my mind.

If several people in the same organisation tell me they’re all in ‘back-to-back meetings’ that same alarm bell rings a bit louder.

Why? Because it’s a sure sign that something is wrong. Nobody can be effective and productive in a job if they’re always in meetings. Nobody. Even if you’re the world’s best delegator, you still need time between meetings to do the delegating!

And assuming that you’re not the world’s best delegator, you need time to work on the things you don’t delegate. So unless you want to spend your evenings and weekends working, you can’t afford to spend all of your working day in meetings. Agreed?

When an organisation develops a ‘meetings culture’ where everyone spends most of their day in meetings, it’s very damaging to the organisation. The more meetings a person attends, the less they will contribute to each. The less well prepared they’ll be and the less willing they will be to pick up actions as a result of the meetings they attend.

Everyone’s energy starts to go into managing their diary and trying to avoid picking up work they haven’t got time to do. Meetings become less productive, sometimes degenerating into exercises in avoiding decisions or plans. Everyone heaves a sigh of relief when they escape a meeting without having to add anything to their already impossible ‘to do’ list.

Am I exaggerating? Maybe a bit. But if you’ve ever been involved in a meetings culture, you’ll know how easy it is for this to happen.

So how to break out of it?

  1. Develop an ‘Outcome focus’.  In other words, before you agree to participate in (not just attend) a meeting ensure that you have a clear purpose for doing so.  Be clear about the end result that meeting will deliver and your role in it.  Unless you have that, stay away from the meeting.
  2. Once in a meeting, make sure that the purpose is clear to all involved and stay focused on achieving that purpose.
  3. Cut down the amount of time allocated to each meeting.  It’s too easy to give each meeting an hour in your calendar without stopping to think how much time is really needed.
  4. Allocate hours every day to work on the tasks you need to do yourself, to delegate other tasks and to plan your time and workload.  Mark these hours as ‘meetings with myself’ and don’t give them up to attend meetings with other people.  Move the time if you have to, but don’t eliminate the time you have to yourself.

These are a few simple things you can do to break out of a meetings culture.  If you’re a team leader, you could experiment with holding some hours each week as ‘meetings-free’ for everyone in your team to help them break out of the meetings culture too.

It just takes a little focus, some determination and the willingness to recognise that the world won’t fall apart if you don’t show up to a meeting that you know won’t be achieving anything anyway!

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