A reader writes:
I’ve been in my current position for 8 months, and I’ve realized that my organization is suffering from a severe case of meeting overload. We don’t have that many meetings — maybe 4 or 5 per week — but the ones that we do have are horrible and violate almost all of your rules. In short, they are agenda-less info dumps that often last 3 to 4 hours each. To clarify, these are not meetings that I’ve called with my team, but meetings I am required to attend with my supervisor and the other department managers.
I’m a relatively new manager, and I’m in charge of one of the largest departments in my organization. I have a lot on my plate, and attending all these pointless meetings is killing my productivity. However, I seem to be the only one bothered by all the meetings. Some of the other department managers have even told me that they look forward to them because it gives them a chance to catch up on gossip! I love my job and I genuinely enjoy my co-workers, but I’m struggling to get my own work done because I spend half my day sitting in meetings listening to my colleagues talk about nothing.
My boss doesn’t actively encourage this behavior, but she doesn’t discourage it either. When I’ve brought up the length of the meetings in conversation, she agrees that they are probably too long, but expresses no interest in changing things because “this is the way these meetings have always been run.” I’m afraid that if I keep bringing it up, it will reflect poorly on me because the other managers don’t seem to have a problem with the current system. I’m not sure if they have less to do or if they’re just more productive because they’ve all been here 10+ years, but I know that at this stage in my career, I can’t afford to waste half my day in meetings and still have time to finish my own work and manage my own department. I really don’t think I have an issue with time management, because I have no problem getting things done on days when I have short meetings (or no meetings at all). Am I out of line for thinking that these meetings are unreasonable? Do you have any suggestions about how I can minimize the impact they have on my productivity without alienating my boss or my co-workers?
Regular meetings that last 3-4 hours each? With no agenda and where people spend some of the time gossiping? No, you’re not out of line. However, you might be out of sync with your manager and your organization, in that you value productivity and efficiency and want to get things done, whereas they … don’t.
You already approached your manager about this and she didn’t seem interested in doing anything to change the status quo, so your options for making real change are limited. Your best bet is probably to simply find ways to limit the impact on yourself.
For instance, you might say this to your boss: “I need more time to focus on X, Y, and Z, and I’m spending 15 hours in meetings every week — almost two full work days. So unless you object, I’m going to excuse myself from meetings if it starts to seem like the discussion isn’t essential to me.”
You could also try taking your laptop to the meetings so that you can work during them.
Of course, you could also ask your manager if she’d be willing to try it your way and experiment with letting you run a few meetings yourself. You could point out that you’re not the only one spending two days a week sitting in meetings, and that it’s a drain on productivity organization-wide. And who knows, maybe she’ll let you, as long as it’s not more work for her.
But with all of these options, the potential problem is that you’ll be doing something so foreign to your culture that it may cause Issues. So you’ll need to be attuned to that, and pull back if it does. Although if that’s the case, then I’d strongly recommend considering finding an environment that has more clarity about how people’s time should be used, because the overarching message here is that this is a culture that isn’t able to make smart decisions. And there’s no way that this is the only area in which they’re making bad calls about how to best get results, so you might find seeking more efficient pastures very satisfying.