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Radhika Panjwani is a former journalist from Toronto and a blogger.

The definition of insanity in a workplace is holding the same meeting with the same people, every week and expecting different results, says Tom Fishburne, a marketer, author, and well-known cartoonist.

In an article in Psychology Today, Bruce Y. Lee, a professor of health policy and management at the City University of New York, writes about the time when someone requested scheduling a 90-minute group meeting, with a 90-minute meeting a week earlier to discuss the upcoming meeting. And a 90-minute followup after.

When Dr. Lee inquired if all the meetings could be combined and shortened, the response to his suggestion was, “Let’s meet to discuss this.”

“Basically, you never want the biggest accomplishment of a project to be, ‘We have met and met and met and talked a lot about what we will be planning to do,’ with a bunch of phrases like ‘activate’ and ‘circle back on that’ thrown in there,” he writes in the article. “When the meeting-time-to-tasks-completed ratio for a project has already gotten way too high, it’s time to course-correct as soon as possible.”

Dr. Lee says when meetings are reduced to discussing the same things ad nauseam or are about micromanaging, “they move from the useful end of the spectrum to the repeatedly-hit-my forehead-with-a-head-of-lettuce end of the spectrum.”

Even a daily 30-minute standup meeting for 12 people takes up 20 hours each month. Excessive meetings can be symptomatic of underlying problems in an organization, such as a lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

The solution? Adapt the RACI (Recommenders, Approver, Consulters and the Informed) responsibility framework to alleviate and reduce meeting overload. In this framework, each project has designated people with clearly spelled-out roles. Recommenders are people who develop and analyze options and make recommendations. An approver is a primary decision-maker. Consulters help approvers to make the right decision, and an informed person is someone who needs to be kept in the picture but is not involved in either decision-making or consulting.

Meeting-free study

Vijay Pereira, a management professor and head of the people and organizations department at NEOMA Business School in Reims, France, found in a study that companies should do away with the inefficient practice.

The three-year study, titled “The surprising impact of meeting-free days,” involved persuading 76 companies from 50 countries to introduce at least one meeting-free day per week. The researchers surveyed 25,000 employees, HR directors and managers to analyze the results.

Employees experienced less stress and enjoyed more autonomy and co-operation in companies that embraced one or two meeting-free days per week.

“The conclusion is clear: spending more and more time in meetings really affects people, and thus, companies,” the authors noted in their report. “As a result, many organizations, including Facebook and Atlassian, are taking a stand by adopting no-meeting days, during which people operate at their own rhythms and collaborate with others at a pace and on a schedule that is convenient, not forced.”

Another key point that emerged from the data was that the individuals who called for the most meetings were newly minted managers – more specifically, men – “keen to be visible, but also send a signal that they were in control.”

“Nearly half (47 per cent) of the companies we studied reduced meetings by 40 per cent by introducing two no-meeting days per week,” the researchers wrote. “The remaining companies attempted something even more ambitious: 35 per cent instituted three no-meeting days, and 11 per cent implemented four. The remaining 7 per cent eradicated meetings entirely.”

The cure

If meetings are a necessary evil, then Dr. Lee suggests companies diligently measure meeting-time-to-tasks-completed ratio and ensure the ratio is low. His other suggestions include:

  1. Meetings should not be scheduled unless there’s a clear agenda
  2. Establish clear and concrete output goals
  3. Meetings should not last more than 30 minutes
  4. Be respectful of other people’s time
  5. Identify meetings with high time-to-task ratios and come up with alternative solution: e-mail, message boards or messenger apps

“Remember a meeting is like any other tool or piece of technology,” Dr. Lee says. “It in itself is neither good nor bad. It’s all in how you use it. If the sole output of a meeting is to have more meetings, then you are probably not meeting everyone’s expectations.”

What I’m reading around the web

  • Who knew daydreaming could help with memory? This article says a study found that “even a few minutes of rest with your eyes closed can improve memory, perhaps to the same degree as a full night of sleep.” Psychologists call this offline waking rest. Even though daydreaming may not sound productive, these intermittent periods of doing nothing help with memory consolidation and permit the reactivation of recently formed memory traces.
  • The return on investment for companies that invest in training their managers is massive, according to this article. Training can turn poor managers into good supervisors. The article highlights six skills that set a good manager apart from an awful one, including emotional intelligence and a sense of purpose.
  • This article showcases some recession-proof industries, according to economists. The top four? Health care, government, education, and information technology.

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