Star Trek fans will know that when approaching (vs. be approached by) a Klingon, they use the simple greeting, “What do you want.” As a kid, I really loved this practical directness. I was raised to make people feel welcome with a greeting and that continued into adulthood. But in my work life the greeting I often wanted to use was more Klingon than nice.
And I have come to see the practicality of this type of greeting when we receive meeting invites. One of the biggest complaints I hear from clients is that there are way too many meetings. They have no time to do their real work: to think, strategize, execute and coach their employees. Of course, this is the work that most senior leaders and their teams have been hired to do!
Meeting fatigue is ubiquitous. “Weekly time spent in meetings has more than tripled since February 2020, according to data from Microsoft.” Steven Rogelberg, a professor at UNC-Charlotte, has studied meetings for two decades. His latest research suggests that big companies each waste about $100 million a year on unnecessary meetings.” (Link to Bloomberg article below)
Adam Grant says there are four reasons to meet: to decide, learn, bond and do.
I would add a fifth. When there are big, important milestones, celebrations or announcements that you want to make sure everyone (whether it be a team or a whole company) hears at the same time, a meeting can be efficient. But far too many meetings are “information sharing”, or “updates” which can be accomplished in more efficient ways.
If a meeting is unnecessary, the prevalent recommendation from experts is to cancel it. But we don’t do this. According to Steven Rogelberg, “employees want to skip one third of their meeting invites.” Yet only 14% of us decline. And I am aware of how hard this is for clients to do even though they tell me they know that it would vastly improve their team’s productivity and sense of accomplishment.
When I work with teams on this issue, they are brave in theory and scared in practice. In one-on-one meetings they tell me that they are hesitant to decline a meeting invite, even when they know it will be a waste of time. They are worried how it will look, of being left out of important future discussions or not being “seen". These reasons make sense emotionally and wreak havoc on productivity and performance.
I advocate we behave more like Klingons for meetings. Adopt a more practical set of responses to meeting invites and make it really okay for people to use them. If you do it right, these questions should become standard: What is the purpose for this meeting? Is a meeting the best way to accomplish this goal? For this purpose, who must be in this meeting? Why am I being invited?
I especially want leaders to encourage employees to decline meeting invites when they know it is not the best use of their time. In 2023 I hope it’s more common to just say “no” to meeting invitations where your attendance serves no real purpose.
Moira Clarke founded Leadership Consulting Partners 21 years ago to collaborate with leaders, teams and organizations to create more productive, effective, and human people systems and practices. If you are reading this to the end, and you find value, please say so and share with others on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thank you!
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.