Meetings: Are They Helping or Killing Managerial Productivity?

Anantha Keerthi

Published: August 23, 2023.

Meetings have become an integral part of most organizations, with managers spending an average of 23 hours a week in meetings. However, the increased frequency and length of meetings have led to many managers feeling that they are unproductive and inefficient, preventing them from completing their own work. In a survey of senior managers across industries, 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work, while 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient.

While some leaders, such as Elon Musk, have advocated for avoiding frequent and large meetings, others believe that meetings are essential for collaboration, communication, and decision-making. A manager was quoted as saying, “If the alternative to more meetings is more autocratic decision-making, less input from all levels throughout the organization, and fewer opportunities to ensure alignment and communication by personal interaction, then give me more meetings any time!”

The question remains: are meetings really helpful or mostly a killer of managerial productivity?

In this article, an attempt is made to solve this dilemma and offer solutions to enhance productivity in environments like engineering, R&D, and software development where workflow is primarily executed by skilled human beings.

There are two types of meetings: problem-solving meetings and review meetings. While most review meetings tend to be unproductive and tend to focus on blame-shifting, problem-solving meetings can add significant value to an organization.

The purpose of meetings should be to solve problems or issues collaboratively. Meetings where an issue is resolved because a group of varied experts reached a common understanding of the problem are very value-adding. So the first type of meeting is very desirable. However, for these meetings to result in issue resolution, these meetings would often require cross-functional inputs, a common understanding of the problem, and reconciling differing perspectives for a resolution.

Getting a bunch of very busy functional experts together may not be easy. So, these meetings should have a cadence rather than scheduling experts based on availability (it’s very tough to get a common date and time like that). Further, they have to be short meetings held daily (at operational level), weekly, or monthly (top management level) depending on the layer of hierarchy. Whatever is not solved daily moves to the week and then to the month.

Additionally, to ensure that these issue management meetings are effective, it is also important to clearly define the meeting’s objective, focus on the future rather than the past, ensure each participant comes prepared, and start and finish meetings on time. During the meeting, the practice should be that each individual makes a case of logical refutation of points presented rather than using rhetoric or any of the fallacious argument methods. Further, each of these meetings must focus on finding permanent solutions to avoid recurring issues.

It must be noted that these kind of meetings cannot be done away with. For instance, trying to replace this type of issue management meeting with emails, in a bid to avoid the coordination required doesn’t help. Issues will stay open for long and senior managers end up feeling that if the topic had been brought to their attention in a timely fashion, they could have solved the problem.

However, it is best to do away with the second kind of meeting – the review meeting. These are often useless, as they do not provide meaningful insights and tend to focus on blame rather than analyzing what happened. Instead, dashboards for crucial performance parameters can be used daily to identify areas where processes are outside statistical control, allowing for more timely intervention.

In conclusion, meetings cannot be avoided since they are necessary for collaboration, communication, and decision-making. However, they can be productive or a drain on managerial productivity, depending on how they are conducted. Many of our clients have adopted proactive problem-solving meetings and done away with review meetings to ensure that their meetings are productive and efficient and add value to their organizations. Everyone is happy to work in such a stress-free environment.

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