Breaking the Cycle: Combat the Tyranny of Meetings and Improve Critical Thinking
Maximizing productivity and fostering innovation through judicious time management and intentional meeting practices
📊 DELIVER: Driving Results
Last week we covered that as a new team leader one of the many challenges you will face is resistance.
At all levels, resistance to new ways of doing things, resistance to new ideas, resistance to eliminating old ways of doing things, and so on. I proffered that to overcome resistance, you, as the new team leader, have to embrace and actively plan for resistance; you may even have to love it a little before you can help your team navigate through it. You may even feel like resistance management is where you spend most of your time—which is not the issue.
The issue is focus. Intentional focus to be precise.
The moment you become a new team leader, you will become acutely aware of the increased draw on your time. All of a sudden you have to think about the practical (e.g., salaries, benefits, governance, legal), the objective (e.g., performance management), and the subjective (e.g., coaching and development). Most importantly, for the first time in your professional life, your performance is going to be measured by how well you can deliver value through others.
It is a lot to think about and work through but certainly doable when you have the time to focus.
Now take a look at your calendar.
I don’t know you, but if you work in a corporate environment, I bet it is filled with meetings.
How many of those meetings are purposely designed to help you manage the practical, objective, and subjective elements we just covered above? Or purposely designed to help you and your team innovate? Or purposely designed to help you manage and breakthrough resistance? Or purposely designed to build capabilities, yours or your teams’?
You need time to think, time to co-create, time to influence stakeholders, and time to coach and develop your team. But there’s no such thing as more time; you need less distractions. Hard to accelerate with your foot on the brake.
Before you throw more time at the problem, throw more focused action at the problem. You don’t need more time, you need fewer distractions." — James Clear
The tyranny of meetings has become so prevalent that it's almost a cliché, but that doesn't make it any less true. As a new team leader, it can be tempting to fill your calendar with back-to-back meetings, thinking that it's the most effective way to stay on top of everything. Recent research from Microsoft suggests that this approach is not only exhausting, it can also negatively impact critical thinking skills.
Meetings impede critical thinking
In the study “that monitored the brain wave activity of participants during back-to-back meetings, Microsoft researchers found that stress levels continued to accumulate, leading to a decrease in focus and engagement. However, they also found that taking short breaks in between meetings could significantly reduce stress levels and improve focus and engagement during meetings.”
As a new team leader, it's important to be aware of the impact of back-to-back meetings on your team's well-being and productivity. It is essential to be judicious with your time and your team's time. Instead of scheduling back-to-back meetings, consider scheduling breaks between meetings to allow your brain to "reset" and reduce stress levels.
Or, better yet, reset entirely and develop a system to cancel and/or reject more meetings. Establish a framework for your team that empowers them to say no—“create” time by saying no.
It is okay to say no to meetings
A few months ago, I created and posted on LinkedIn a simple primer for team leaders to use with their teams, to teach their teams: empowering, advocating and sponsoring them to say 'no' to more meetings and how to do it.
In essence, I proffered the following:
Meetings are objectively expensive —> In terms of actual revenue or profit and, as Microsoft’s research showed, in terms of mental health and critical thinking, meetings are measurably expensive. Action: Empirically calculate the costs of all your meetings, and make sure the benefits of the meeting outweigh the costs.
“Saying no” can be frame-worked, it is productive to do so, and you will not be judged negatively —> There are a few core principles that you can follow and coach your teams on how to minimize over-calendaring. And as Adam Grant also posited, “people generally don’t hold it against you.” Action: Create a disciplined framework and raise the bar for meetings.
Mindsets matter —> Over-calendaring of meetings is an outcome of successive choices, especially when a framework for how to say 'no' is non-existent or when not actively sponsored if it does exist. Action: Regularly discuss with your team and your leaders the importance of raising the bar for meetings. Contrarian tip: Still having trouble changing mindsets and reducing over-calendaring? Share your data from step #1 with your chief financial officer and your chief human resources officer!
To be fair, meetings, when done right can be valuable. They can bring people together, facilitate collaboration, and help keep projects on track by making decisions and removing barriers. However, when meetings are overused or poorly planned (and most are), they become a drain on both your team’s bottom line and their mental health.
In the words of entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss, "Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined."
The same can be said for meetings. As the new team leader, you have the power to streamline your team's workflow and eliminate unnecessary meetings. It may not be the most glamorous part of the job, but it's essential for maximizing productivity and keeping your team mentally healthy and engaged.
What is the one thing, the one action that you can make to break the cycle, combat the tyranny of over-calendaring, and help improve your team’s ability to think deeply and more critically on the things that matter?
Want another contrarian quick tip? Take a look at all the meetings in your calendar for the month. Sum up the collective salaries of the attendees and compare it with how much money (incremental revenue or profit) will actually be made after the meeting—still worth it?
"Raise the bar for meetings" is, sadly, not too hard! I'm waiting for MSFT to install the "Is This Meeting Invaluable?" AI widget to Outlook—and it will calculate the cost/benefit for you. Schedule at your own risk! 😅