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Identifying the Root Causes of Meeting Overload in Your Organization

Why Does My Organization Have So Many Meetings?

Meetings are a big part of our professional lives, but at what cost? It's easy to imagine a scenario where your calendar is overflowing with meetings, and you need more time for uninterrupted work. This is the reality many employees face – and is the result of a phenomenon called meeting overload. But what does that mean? Meeting overload indicates a calendar and culture with too many meetings. Unfortunately, meeting overload increases user frustration, decreases productivity, drains energy, and lessens the quality of work. When our schedules overwhelm us, we often feel unmotivated and long for more time to take on meaningful tasks.

Let’s start with the bad news: meeting overload is a widespread problem, and measuring its impact can be tricky. According to the Harvard Business Review, 83% of managers in a survey labeled their meetings as unproductive. U.S.-based professionals even identified meetings as the number one office productivity killer. Excessive meetings can be overwhelming, leading to stress, tiredness, and a drop in both productivity and work quality. It's like trying to juggle too many balls at once – sooner or later, something will drop.

Luckily, there's also good news: you have the power to change this culture. A Harvard Business Review study reveals that anybody can change their company's meeting landscape by applying best practices, knowledge, and understanding. This study found that when employees cleared their calendars of small meetings for 48 hours, they saved an impressive 32 hours a month! This "clean slate" approach encourages deep thought, allowing employees to reassess and focus on the value of each meeting.

Collaborative Overload in The Modern Workplace: When Is It "Too Much"?

In today's workplaces, collaborative effort is a number one priority. Although people tended to work alone more in the past, today’s technologies make it much easier to collaborate on tasks as a team. Today, groups and networks complete most of the work. Think about how important this is when, in most environments, 80 to 95% of assignments are with others. While this cooperation brings success, it can also bring setbacks.

Collaborative overload is like meeting overload and means an excess of all things team-related – not just meetings. This means that sometimes, people get too many messages, emails, and meeting requests. It's like having too much on your plate, making it hard to focus on your work. This is a significant reason why meeting overload feels that much more stressful.

Why does collaborative overload happen? Simply put, workplaces have changed a lot over the last ten to twenty years. Nowadays, there's a lot of focus on working together. One of the challenges is that collaborative overload doesn't have a single source; many different things can contribute. It can be because of how the organization is structured, how meeting managers choose to handle scheduling, or even the tools and technology managers use.

Here's the tricky part: there's no perfect solution for this problem. It's like trying to balance on a seesaw. Sometimes you have to work together, and sometimes you need time to do your own thing. It's an ongoing process, and there's no magic fix. Luckily, by identifying and analyzing the causes of overload, we can improve our meeting culture. 

The Struggle with Meeting Overload: Causes and Cures

Although meetings should nurture collaboration, they can be a source of stress and inefficiency in the workplace. Here, we explore common causes of meeting overload and the evidence-based cures for your struggles.

Causes of Meeting Overload

Evidence-Based Remedies

Extended Meetings

Meetings that drag on for too long can lead to exhaustion and unproductivity. The Harvard Business Review teaches us about the "Mere Urgency Effect." This effect tells us that stress can make people work on seemingly urgent but unimportant tasks to feel accomplished. In the end, this leads to longer meetings.

The Cure

Cut the fat out of your schedule. Encourage meeting organizers to reconsider how long a meeting needs to go. The Harvard Business Review’s “Doomsday” study showed that people who embraced this practice shortened and changed the rhythm of meetings. In doing this, they were able to make meeting time more valuable.

Too Many People

Too many heads in a meeting is one of the many causes of meeting overload, but why does it happen? The fear of missing out on the meeting (Meeting FOMO) and inflated invitation lists contribute to this issue. This leads to an overcrowded meeting, resulting in less engagement and more frustration.

The Cure

Start with a clean slate. Allow teams to reconsider the value of each person in a meeting. In using the "Full Doomsday" method, groups wiped off all the regular meetings for two days. During this time, they carefully looked at who should be in each session and if the meetings were helpful. Starting from scratch ultimately helped make meetings more effective.

Poorly Run

Meetings that don't have a structure and purpose can be a significant drain on productivity. This can happen due to "selfish urgency," a phenomenon where leaders schedule meetings at their convenience without considering their teams' needs. Unfortunately, this increases the likelihood that a meeting is not being well run.

The Cure

Create a movement. Encourage collaborative efforts to fix gatherings, making it a shared responsibility for the team or organization. Meetings are more easily fixed when people work together, sharing ideas and strategies to improve the overall meeting culture.

No Meeting Needed

Meeting organizers often need to reconsider whether a meeting is essential or not. In some cases, people don't need to gather face-to-face for discussions. More efficient, remote communication methods, like email or collaborative tools could replace many everyday meetings.

The Cure

Use data to decide what to subtract. The Meeting Reset (a suggestion by Harvard Business Review) is a practice where employees rate each recurring meeting on effort and value, helping them decide whether asynchronous communication could replace a meeting.

Who addresses meeting overload?

Think of meeting leaders as the captains steering your workplace gatherings. They decide when and how long meetings should be, who needs to be there versus needs to be informed of the meeting outcomes, and consider the costs involved. In a way, meeting leaders are responsible for creating positive, productive habits around every meeting. That said, meeting leaders face challenges. It's easy to miss important details. Gathering information about meeting costs is only sometimes available and is rarely standardized. These are just some of the factors that make it tough to tackle the widespread issue of meeting overload.

Enter the Chief Meeting Officer (CMO): a role companies could create to address meeting overload at an organizational level. Identifying problem areas across an entire organization can be a challenging task. Meeting overload is not an isolated issue but a cultural challenge. By managing the schedules of meeting leaders and adding new strategies to current meeting systems, CMOs play a pivotal role in improving meetings. Additionally, CMOs could create a new culture in the workplace. They'd place a value on meaningful discussions over unnecessary gatherings. Moreover, they could ensure that employees are on the same page regarding the costs and benefits of each meeting.

Wondering how to identify meeting overload problems in your company? Well, it's time to put on your detective hat. Look for indicators of exhaustion, stress, and lower productivity among your team members – these could be signs of meeting overload. You can take charge! Suggest that senior leaders in your organization create training programs for meeting leaders. These programs can raise awareness about the issues surrounding excessive meetings. They can equip leaders with tools to make informed decisions about when, where, and how to conduct meetings. You can also consider the role of professional tools to streamline meeting processes.

Reducing Meeting Overload Across Your Culture is Possible, But It Takes Focus and Time

Transforming the meeting culture at your company is challenging: it demands a fresh perspective and dedication to create long-lasting, positive change. Meetings are the heartbeat of how work gets done, and switching their dynamics requires thoughtful strategies, creative approaches, and the resilience to see the process through.

Successful transformation requires understanding company fundamentals and core values. Having a razor-sharp focus and dedication to learning is a great place to start. The foundations of this journey will come from gathering data, taking in employee critiques, and adopting new approaches. It's essential to acknowledge that reshaping your meeting culture won't happen overnight. Instead, it is a gradual process that demands time and persistent effort.

Kairos Learning Lab is ready to assist if you're committed to alleviating meeting overload in their corporate culture. Our comprehensive evaluations and assessments delve into your existing meeting practices, pinpointing areas for improvement. Through expertly crafted training, we address common meeting challenges. Integrated tools and reminders ensure that positive changes become ingrained. This will nurture an efficient meeting culture in every corner of your organization. It's not a swift solution but a deliberate journey toward enduring change – for your company and for all the individuals who make it strong.

We're Here to Help. We'll Make it Easy. 

We understand that improving meetings can be difficult, which is why we exist. Talk to one of our Kairos specialists today to get started on the path to happier employees who value the time they spend in meetings.