How Many Meetings are Too Many: The Art & Science of Striking the Right Balance
It’s easy to write meetings off because we’ve all been stuck in one too many that could have been an email. But there’s a reason they exist. The right kind of meeting can connect your team like nothing else and propel your company toward success.
Here’s the problem: meetings are like rabbits. If left unchecked, they multiply until there’s no time or creative energy left to get the actual work done. So how do you strike the right balance for your team? It starts by defining the problem.
How to figure out if your team is stuck in ‘too many meetings’ land
Before March ‘20, we were slowly moving towards a meeting recession. Companies were recognizing that too many meetings led to burnout, lower productivity, and decreased employee satisfaction.
But when teams were pushed online with little warning and no time to prepare, we needed a way to communicate. Enter Zoom and the beginning of a brand new meetings spiral.
According to Fortune, post-pandemic meetings take up 21.5 hours a week. Even if this alarming stat is not true for your team, a Microsoft analysis on their Teams suite, found that those using Teams were sitting in 148% more meetings and getting 45% more messages. Adding fuel to the growing meetings fire, an estimated 37 billion dollars are lost in unproductive meetings in the US every year. All of this affects the way your team works, feels, and creates. Let’s go a level deeper.
This is what happens when there are too many meetings
To really understand the impact of meetings on your team, we need to talk about people. Generally, there are two broad types of people in a meeting:
- Managers. The heads of teams and departments, presidents, executives, and those in ‘people-focused’ positions whose main role centers around verbal collaboration
- Makers. Creatives and individual contributors like developers, copywriters, and designers whose main role centers around producing a set outcome like product code, new branding guidelines, or a new homepage
A manager’s day centers around meetings with stakeholders, clients, their team, and other managers. They need these to share and discuss ideas, keep projects on track and make sure everyone is on the same page.
For people in this type of role, too few meetings can lead to disconnection, stagnation, a loss of focus and productivity, and — eventually — attrition. Regular meetings are how managers keep their teams connected and productive and how they stay on top of their workloads.
On the other hand, a maker’s day centers around creation. They need long, uninterrupted periods to put their heads down, get in a flow state, and work. Regular interruption from emails, messages, and meetings disrupts the flow state, decreases the quality of their work, and causes frustration. When HBR found that about 70% of meetings are actively interfering with getting work done and that reducing meetings by 40% increased productivity by 71%, they were talking about makers.
For people in this type of role, attending too many meetings destroys their ability to create. This means they have to put in longer hours outside of work to keep up with their workload. This leads to overload, burnout, ‘quiet quitting’, a loss of focus and productivity, and — eventually — attrition.
Here’s the long and short of it: if you put your team through too many meetings, you’ll end up losing makers. If you put them through too few meetings, you’ll end up losing managers.
When you lose top performers, you lose all the institutional knowledge and connections they brought with them. And you open yourself to the cost of hiring and training new team members who are likely to follow in their predecessor's footsteps — unless you fix the root of the issue. So what can you do about this? How can you set the right number of meetings to help both your managers and your makers thrive?
How to set the right number of meetings
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: there’s no magical meeting number that can serve you in every situation. For starters, managers and makers need a different number and type of meetings. The final number is also going to vary based on the team, quarter, goals, projects and so much more. But there are things you can do to figure this out.
Understanding the needs of managers and makers
Managers and makers don’t just need a different number of meetings — because their meetings serve a different role, they need a different schedule to thrive.
Managers usually need to action small items in between meetings — they need to reply to emails, regroup, and prepare. Meetings scheduled throughout the day with time in between to tie up any loose ends tend to work best. That’s why folks in those roles tend to break up their days into 30 or 60-minute slots — enough to either meet or get some work done.
Makers need the exact opposite of that. To create the high-quality work they’re hired for, they need uninterrupted blocks of 2-4 hours at a time so they can get into a state of creative flow. Meetings tend to be less disruptive for them when they’re scheduled in blocks, either at the start or the end of the day. Minimizing the dead time between meetings gives makers the long stretches they need to be productive. There’s a link between maker time and excellent performance: ‘makers’ who exceed expectations tend to have the most maker time.
So to set the right number of meetings, you need to balance those two competing priorities. But what about the different types of meetings?
Balancing out different meeting types: skip-level, manager, one-on-ones, and more
Managers need multiple vertical meetings. They need regular one-on-ones with their team. They need cross-department meetings with other managers so they prevent silos and keep information flowing properly. They need skip-level meetings with executives to both learn and pass on crucial company information. And they need to lead group meetings for all the various projects their department is overseeing.
These meetings — when run well — cut down on the need to have multiple separate conversations and messages and should minimize distractions for makers.
Makers tend to need two other types of meetings:
- small, collaborative meetings with the other makers working on the same project and
- one-on-ones with their direct supervisor
When working out the right schedule and timing, all of these meeting types need to be taken into account.
Setting the right internal trends and benchmarks
Figuring out how many meetings is too many does — in part — come down to setting the right meeting culture at your company. This isn’t something that can be done in a vacuum or commandeered top-down: setting meeting culture is a group activity. It requires honest, open conversation between managers, makers, and those who tend to fall in between the two.
If you’re a small company, you can find the right balance by asking everyone on your team needs to answer a few questions:
- Which meetings do I look forward to every week? The answer will show you which meetings are really important for team connection and cohesion.
- Which meetings do I need every week so I can get my work done? The answer highlights the meetings necessary for proper project completion and collaboration.
- Which meetings make me feel like I don’t need to be there? The answer will show you meetings that are frustrating your team and may not actually be serving productivity.
- Are there meetings that are not happening right now that I need? The answer will highlight any vital meetings that may be getting skipped.
- When are the best times and worst times for meetings? This will give you a better idea of your team’s optimum performance times.
Next, you need to figure out who sets the majority of meetings. These are the people that can help you drive change — by leading cutting back, rescheduling, and refocusing efforts.
If you work at a large corp and you need to find the optimal meeting frequency at scale, then you’ll need some help.
You don’t have to work out the magic number alone
Praisidio can help you find the perfect meeting balance per employee — at scale.
Praisidio predictively analyses your existing in-house data and identifies attrition risks based on a number of factors, including meeting loads. This allows you to pinpoint exactly which meetings are happening too much, which are happening too little, and for whom.
Praisidio also gives precise, actionable recommendations so you can find the right meeting balance per employee, cohort, role, team, or department. You can get as granular as it makes sense for your team. You can also use internal benchmarks and real-time meeting trend data to help drive decisions and free up your team to be more productive.
Leave the question of ‘how many meetings are too many’ behind you for good and book a demo with Praisidio. We’ll help you get the number just right.