Why do we lock our top talent up in meetings all day?

When I worked on the corporate side, I sat in my fair share of meetings. On average, probably about 3-4 hours a day–half my day. But, that was nothing compared to my boss and my bosses boss. They routinely spent their entire day (probably save an hour here or there) in a room talking to other people.


Why do we do that?

Why do we lock up our top talent, our leaders in meetings for literally the ENTIRE day?

Here’s my logic:

* These are conceivably your best leaders in your organization–if you lock them up in meetings you take away valuable time they need to stew, noodle, contemplate and THINK.

* These are conceivably your best leaders in your organization–if you lock them up in meetings you rob them of time they need to spend with their teams, you know, LEADING!

* These are conceivably your best leaders in your organization–if you lock them up in meetings you take away time they could be using NETWORKING and meeting with folks outside the organization in an attempt to bring in new IDEAS to bolster their teams.

* These are conceivably your best leaders in your organization–if you lock them up in meetings you inevitably FRUSTRATE them because your robbing them of ALL of the above and they will eventually seek other employment.

If you’ve sat in one of these director/senior roles, does that sound about right?

I understand the need for meetings. I do. Brainstorming. Bringing a team up to speed all at once instead of individually. The reasons are many. But 8 hours of meetings? No one needs that. In fact, I always say that if I ever end up running a marketing department or my own agency at some point, I would NEVER have a meeting longer than one hour.

I mean it. I wouldn’t. If you need to meet, you can do it in an hour. If you can’t, you need to do more work BEFORE the meeting to get to the point where we need to meet.

But, back to the challenge at hand. How do we help these senior leaders escape this conundrum? I have a few ideas:

Block your calendar

Go into your calendar and block it for 2 hours a day EVERY day. Need to start smaller? Block it for 4 hours a day one day a week. Label it however you want. When I tried this, I was honest and labeled it “desk time.” Seemed to do the trick…

Set at least two coffees once a week

This will FORCE you to go outside the office and meet with colleagues, vendors and other “influencers” in our industry. Trust me–it’ll help.

Ask for meeting agendas

You’ll be surprised how this shortens meetings. Ever been to a meeting with an agenda? It’s usually on time. It usually takes less than an hour. Those meetings without agendas? They tend to ramble on forever. Aimlessly, at times. Which sounds better to you?

Run your meetings like an agency would

In one of my former corporate jobs, I sat in a meeting once that probably had upwards of 20 people in it. And, most of them were what I’d consider senior-level employees. If these folks were on the agency side, they’d be billing out at $200 an hour-plus. It was a two-hour meeting. So, by my math, that meeting cost the organization more than $8,000. When inviting people to meetings, keep this math in mind. Even if you work on the corporate side, think about your meetings as if you were on the agency side.

Just a few ideas. What do you think? Have any other ideas to help our senior leaders out? I know they’d appreciate the help.

Note: Photo courtesy of Daniel Greene via FlickR Creative Commons.

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7 comments on “Why do we lock our top talent up in meetings all day?

  1. ryanstephens says:

    In my experience the biggest reason is that it makes people FEEL LIKE they’re accomplishing something. It’s often a bunch of people sitting around trying to decide who will take responsibility for something. The longer I work the more I realize that most people don’t want to DO ACTUAL WORK. By going to meetings they can say they went to work, they can say they attended meetings, they can talk about what was said in those meetings. It makes them FEEL LIKE they’re working. It’s insanity. In really big siloed organizations a lot of meetings are dog and pony shows to get people to “buy into” what your organization is doing. Sometimes that’s necessary (e.g. so we can get more budget for the next fiscal year), but other times it falls into the above a category.
    Sometimes it’s just necessary to know what the hell everyone else is doing so that you can collaborate, try to eliminate redundancies, be on the same page, etc.
    What drives me bananas is that these high profile leaders waste time in meetings all day and then become exasperated with young(er) employees, direct reports who just want 3-5 minutes of feedback. “Ugh, why must we babysit you all? We have meetings to go to for crying out loud.”

  2. dmullen says:

    I’ve been in these shoes. One thing I’d add about the frustration of being in meetings all day is that the only time you have to do actual work then is at night, which wrecks your life outside of work. Because you end up not having a life outside of work. The employee isn’t the only one who gets burned out with that scenario. Spouses get burned out. Kids get burned out. Family and friends get burned out. That may not be a problem for people who justify sacrificing their family on the alter of work. But it is for many talented folks who work their butts off, but aren’t willing to put in 60+ hours/week

  3. ScottMeis says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Blows my mind in fact. Another relevant post on this topic you should check out:  http://www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html

  4. kmskala says:

    Tip: Learn to say no.
    Determine which meetings are valuable and worth having and filter out the meetings that aren’t productive. I routinely decline meeting invites that I feel aren’t worth my time.

  5. NancyCawleyJean says:

    Meetings are so often for the sake of having a meeting that they all just seem inane after a while, don’t they? Give me a to-do list and a deadline and I’m happy. Schedule me in back-to-back meetings and I will go out of my mind. Thanks for making sense of this craziness, Arik!

  6. ladysportsman says:

    Death by meeting, been there, done that. One boss saw this as well and started a rule that all meetings could only last an hour. Agendas were nice, but hardly ever provided. They sure make your day go quicker 🙂

  7. HeatherWhaling says:

    @kmskala YES! Kasey, this is a really good point. The past few months, I’ve tried to be better about purposefully deciding which meetings I need to attend vs which ones I can delegate to someone on my team …  or even if we can skip it altogether. When we hold internal meetings, I’m trying to be better about making sure every meeting has a clear purpose and ends with specific action items. I hate meetings for meetings’ sake.