Do we need a meeting intervention?

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7:30-4:30, 8-2:30, 10-3, 11-4:30…these are some of the meeting schedules I’ve had in the last few weeks. I guess there’s generally some breaks included for walking around, checking an email or two and grabbing a bite to eat, but not always. But, in most cases, the meetings are back to back to back. That means between my 8-9 and my 9-10 meeting, for example, that I need to find time to finish up with the post meeting niceties, walk to a different location (most likely), figure out how to take a bio break. For people who work remotely, most of that scenario still holds except maybe you give you dog or kid a pat on the head. Or you could be commuting from one remote site to another. Try baking in two or three hour long commutes into a 9 hour work day and see how productive you can actually be.

Regardless of the realized pain, such meeting schedules are extremely prevalent in modern office situations. Several of my clients have commented recently that it feels like “all they do is sit in meetings”.  They feel less productive, worn out and generally disconnected from what they consider their full time work.  As a good consultant, I typically try to maximize the use of my client’s time by consolidating meetings into one block of time, because in turn that maximizes the value they get out of me and often leads to more expedient projects. But how do I do that when I am actually adding to the meeting insanity?
I’ve come up with my own rules to help…
  1. No early meetings on Monday or late Friday unless there’s no other choice. People are typically protective of those times and disgruntled when a meeting is plopped down in the middle. 
  2. When I look at someone’s calendar, I try avoid scheduling back to back to back meetings.  Three meetings of one hour plus in length in a row can be a beating. And since Outlook doesn’t automatically give you that between meeting buffer (come on Stevie B), I use my own judgement to add buffer time so that meetings don’t start late.  As the third meeting in a back to back to back, people are still racing from their second meeting which undoubtedly started late. Email, phone calls, bio, etc need to be handled at some point. Why not give 15 min reprieve if possible. Thirty minutes if you can.
  3. No blind scheduling. If I’m not on the same Exchange (email server) environment and can’t see a person’s availability, I try to reach out and ask what a person/group has in terms of availability.
  4. I always try to give people at least 30 minutes to go to lunch midday. I prefer to go outside of the office, others want to sit at their desk. Whichever way works, people need a midday mental recharge. See the Spanish siesta as an ideal emedy to the situation.
  5. Finally, I don’t schedule hour long meetings to discuss other meetings. Or invite the whole world. It doesn’t take every chief in the village to make a decision. 
There’s no perfect answer here, I realize that. It’s par for the course in 2011 business and especially with the number of companies with a globally distributed workforce. But as a consultant hired to help companies be smarter about how they conduct business, I want to make sure I’m part of the solution not the meeting insanity problem.