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How Do I Stop the Endless Cycle of Meetings at My Office?

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

My office is plagued by meetings. Endless, pointless, time-sucking meetings. We have meetings to plan other meetings. Half of them are taken up with people chatting about their kids and stuff — meanwhile, work is piling up on my desk. How do I go about letting my managers know that it’s not useful for most of us to spend our day like that? — Sandra H., Fargo, North Dakota

Join the club.

This problem is endemic and getting worse. If you Google “meetings management,” you get 14.2 million results. It’s a hot industry — inspiring books, software, games, etc. — because everyone is suffering from weekdays that are booked from start to finish with meetings.

Here are my pearls of wisdom from too many years of bad meetings and not enough good ones: First of all, meetings are best scheduled when you need to have people listen to each other before taking action; otherwise, sharing information by email or Slack works best. Additionally, if you’re seeking collective wisdom to jumpstart a project or gauge reactions to new or different ideas, having a bunch of people to bounce ideas off of can be energizing.

Of course, there are also less altruistic reasons for bringing people together. Such as:

  • “Look ma, I’m collaborating.” Individuals are brought together for input in the decision-making process, but the outcome has already been predetermined by the powers that be.
  • “We hear you already…” Whiners get a chance to whine, but no one is listening. This appeases folks who shouldn’t have a say in decisions but need to feel that their voices are heard.
  • “The Blame Game.” The more people, the more finger-pointing if things go south.

In terms of wasted time within meetings, that’s separate from whether the meeting should be held in the first place. If every meeting has an agenda that can be circulated in advance, people can opt as they see fit (e.g., “Nothing on the agenda is in my area”).

Similarly, meetings should start and end on time. If you’re having lengthy discussions about family vacations to fill time at the beginning of a meeting, you’re most likely missing the meeting organizer or other key members. Instead of vamping, just start the meeting, embarrass those who are tardy and assign lots of shit to those who forgot to RSVP.

Finally, every meeting should have assigned actions that have been documented. This is what gives the meetings a sense of purpose and provides a sense of direction.

If any or all of these steps are missing, you’re likely in the infinite loop of meetings hell. To free yourself from this circular nightmare, let your boss know that you’d like to run the next meeting. That way you’ll have no one else to blame if people still complain about their time being wasted.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at askterry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.