5 reasons you have too many meetings at work (and how to solve it)

Could too many meetings at work be sucking the life out of you and your team?

June 20, 2022Yellow Squiggle
too many meetings at work

According to a study by Atlassian, the average employee wastes 31 hours of time in unproductive meetings each month.

Forty-five percent of employees say they’ve felt overwhelmed by the number of meetings on their calendar and 47% say unnecessary meetings are the number one time-waster in the office.

Meetings are both a mentally draining and costly problem.

Take a daily standup meeting as an example.

A 30-minute standup for a group of 12 takes away 120 hours of focus time from your team each month. Worse, when people feel their time is being wasted in meetings, they can become disengaged. Before you know it, that fun collaborative workplace culture has turned into a drag of constant meetings.

All that to say: reducing the total hours spent in meetings each week can have a real and lasting impact on your team’s effectiveness, happiness, and well-being.

So how do you build a culture that’s meeting-light?

The trick is to stop fighting meetings head on. Instead, consider excess meetings a symptom that points to underlying problems in your organizational structure and culture. And then fix those.

In this article, we’ll help you identify the 5 root causes of “too many meetings” and solve them—without adding more meetings to the mix.

Problem #1: Roles and responsibilities are fuzzy

A big reason people bring up topics in meetings is to ask for input, feedback, and approval. There’s nothing wrong with that in principle.

But we’ve all been in meetings that feel like a waste of time because everyone is weighing in on some small detail. You might wonder, “Why are we even talking about this?”

Teams waste time talking about unimportant topics because they haven’t agreed on how decisions get made or who should be involved. This is lost productivity.

This is common in “flat structure” companies, where there are fewer layers of leadership or management. Although it sounds good that everyone could lend a hand when problems come up, the result is that people often feel like they can’t move a project forward unless they get input from other people first.

When people’s responsibilities are unclear, or there’s no clear decision maker, folks can feel disempowered to do work on their own. That leads to too many unproductive meetings. And worse, it leads to people not feeling in control of and engaged in their work.

Solution: Document clear roles for every project

A good way to start clarifying responsibilities is to assign a DRI (directly responsible individual) for each project. Make it clear that the DRI is responsible for making decisions on the project, and that they can use good judgment to involve other people in decisions as necessary.

Another way teams tackle this one is by using a responsibility framework like RACI for each project. Here’s how RACI works, according to McKinsey & Company:

  • Recommenders: These are the folks who develop options, analyze them, and make recommendations. They also get input from consulters, but do not have a vote.
  • Approvers: Approvers are the only decision makers and rarely number more than two or three. In many cases, there is only one.
  • Consulters: These are folks who help approvers come to their decision, but don’t have a vote. Typically, it’s better to have more consulters.
  • Informed: An informed person need to be kept in the picture but are not formally consulted or don’t contribute in making the decision. While they merely observe, they provide speed in helping execute a decision.

A detailed framework like RACI can help reduce meeting overload by clarifying who needs to be consulted for major decisions, and who just wants to be informed of the outcomes.

Problem #2: People don’t know what’s happening

Oftentimes, teams over-rely on meetings because they don't have good alternatives for communicating updates and sharing information. When teams and individuals don’t know what each other are up to, meetings get added to the calendar to sort it all out.

In this way, meetings are used as a bandaid to solve for silos and other gaps in communication.

Status meetings and status updates are a big red flag. When you have a lot of status meetings, or spend half of your team meeting going around and sharing updates, it’s probably because there’s no other way to figure out what’s happening.

Solution: Put your team’s status updates in writing

Rather than waste valuable deep work time on status updates—shift them to an async format (https://www.range.co/product/check-ins).

Asynchronous communication (https://www.range.co/resources/what-is-asynchronous-communication#when-should-my-team-use-async-communication)is a great way to keep teams in sync without having to meet, and has the added benefit of improving information-access and alignment. When you have a written record of everything going on, it’s easy to track your team’s accomplishments, see what everyone’s up to, and reference learnings from the past.

Quick tips for better async updates:

  • Be specific: When you’re communicating asynchronously, clarity is key to avoiding unnecessary follow-ups.  Instead of “Working on Project Mercury”, you might say “Shipped code for new user signup flow.” Encourage folks to include links to things like project roadmaps or Asana tasks to provide more context.
  • Keep it focused: If you try to collect or share too much information, folks will get bogged down in the same way they did with in-person meetings. Try giving folks 3-5 prompts—they should be able to share their update in 5 minutes or less.
  • Stay organized: At Range, we use a system of tags and flags to group similar projects and initiatives so they’re easy to discover and refer back to later on. Read more about those.

Problem #3: Teammates don’t trust each other

Working on “trust” might sound fuzzy, but it’s essential on highly effective teams.

And having a problem with trust doesn’t mean you’ve got a Jerry Springer situation where people are screaming and throwing chairs either. It’s usually a lot more subtle.

If you have subtle trust issues, you’re team might:

  • Feel uncomfortable opening up and being vulnerable with each other
  • Avoid disagreeing with each other for fear of conflict
  • Struggle to bring new team members into the fold
  • Suffer from micromanagement or regularly hound each other for information
  • Frequently wonder what each other are working on
  • Discuss the same topics over and over again
  • Miss deadlines and commitments

When people don’t trust each other, they tend to hoard information instead of sharing it openly. You get more misunderstandings, and more meetings to untangle those misunderstandings.

When project teams don’t trust each other to follow through with commitments, you get more meetings to make sure everything is still on track. And when managers don’t trust their team to do quality work, you get more meetings to micromanage.

Solution: Try daily team-building questions

As a leader, building trust on a team is about setting the right conditions for teammates to connect and build relationships with one another.

Team off-sites and activities are one way to do this, but they often take place only once a quarter or even once a year. And that makes it harder for the team to maintain the effects.

If you want to build an underlying foundation of trust, you’ve got to invest in it daily.

Small practices—like icebreakers or team questions—can actually build more trust because teams can invest in them daily, instead of once a quarter.

While they might feel a little awkward at first, team questions are powerful because they give folks an opportunity to share small pieces of themselves. (This is how we begin to build trust.)

Over time, these answers begin to paint a more complete picture of teammates as unique individuals. By better understanding people, we build greater trust—and schedule fewer meetings because of it.

Problem #4: You’re stuck in old ways of working

“Eng teams are supposed to hold standups.”

“Remote teams are supposed to have weekly virtual happy hours.”

OK, says who?

Outdated workflows, perceived meeting norms, and legacy or inherited meetings are all big reasons teams end up with too many meetings on the calendar.

Meetings for the sake of meetings, or standing meetings that no longer serve a clear purpose, aren’t a g ood use of anyone’s time. If your current meetings aren’t working for your team—it’s time to recalibrate.

Solution: Try this quarterly meeting evaluation framework

Take a moment each quarter to evaluate the standing meetings on your team’s calendar and see if there’s an opportunity to do things differently.

Start by asking yourself the following:

  • What’s this meeting’s intended purpose? (Ex: create stronger team bonds, social connection, communicate status updates, set a plan for the week)
  • Are there other meetings with the same purpose? Are there ways to achieve this purpose that don’t require a meeting at all? (See examples below)
  • Are people attending it?
  • Is it providing value to everyone in the room or just a few individuals?

This should help you identify meetings you no longer need or meetings that might be possible in an async format instead.

Experiment with ways you can shift to an async approach

Here are a few examples of what that might look like for common meetings.

Status updates: Rather than hold a daily or weekly meeting, try async check-ins to share progress and flag blockers. When updates happen in writing, folks can surface more context than they’d have time for in a 30-second update—which makes it easier for managers to offer support.

Async status update:

  • Status check: What’s the status of this project? How have you moved it forward since your last check-in?
  • Blocked: Is there anything you’re blocked on?
  • FYI: Is there anything the team needs to be aware of?

Standups: Daily standups can be a drain. Instead, lightweight written updates that cover what everyone’s working on, what they’ve accomplished, and how they’re doing are a great alternative that keep the team moving forward, with one less meeting in the mix.

Async standup / scrum template:

  • Plan: What are you working on today? Share your top 1-3 priorities.
  • Progress: How have you moved work forward since we last checked in?
  • Blocked: What are you blocked on?
  • Mood: How are you feeling today?

Team meeting: To avoid churn in team meetings, try using an async pre-read component to help folks align and prep beforehand.

It’s also best practice to build, set, and share your agenda ahead of time (you can try this team meeting template to get started). Both practices ensure a more productive discussion because folks are prepared and aligned ahead of time, and can often help cut down the meeting’s length.

Team meeting pre-read

  • Weekly focus: What’s your primary focus this week?
  • FYI: Is there anything the team needs to be aware of?
  • Team-building: Rotate in a different team-building question each week to get to know each other and spark discussion.
  • Celebrate: What’s something or someone to celebrate this week?

Brainstorms and retros: Dive right into the good stuff by having folks do a pre-read and solo brainstorm beforehand. When people come prepared with context and ideas, it’s easier to get creative more quickly and means the session can be shorter.

Retro meeting template

  • Working: What went well during this sprint or project?
  • Work on: What could have gone better?
  • Learning: What’s your biggest takeaway from this cycle?
  • Gratitude: Say thanks to someone who helped you out or went above and beyond.

1:1s: Instead of meetings centered around status updates, consider using async check-ins or even email to share updates. Then you can use your meeting time to chat about personal development or how you’re feeling.

1:1 meeting template

  • Mood: How are you doing this week?
  • Accomplishment: What are you most proud of this week?
  • Learning: What did you learn this week?
  • Blocked: Is there anything you’re blocked on?

Problem #5: You’re trying to do too much

Every project has communication overhead. When your company tackles too many projects at the same time, the coordination overhead grows, and it can start to take all your time just staying in sync.

If you’re spending more time talking about work than getting things done, you’re probably juggling too much.

One sure sign of this problem is a status meeting where no one has substantial updates. You might suspect that teammates were so busy running around to meetings that they didn’t have any time to make progress on projects.

Solution: Don’t be afraid to speak up

If your team or company is juggling too many projects, call out the inefficiency, decide how many projects you can handle at the same time, then make some tough calls prioritizing what projects get done first and what will have to wait. When you limit work in progress, you’ll lower your meeting load and actually get more done.

Say goodbye to too many meetings… and hello to Range

When you reduce the number of excess meetings, you create more time to truly work well together as a team. And as an added bonus, by tackling the root causes of your “too many meeting” problem, you’ll make your workplace more empowering, inclusive, and fun too.

With Range, you can:

  • Have fewer meetings & waste less time with async check-ins
  • Reduce meeting load by keeping every team member informed and connected
  • Integrate tools from across your workflow, including Github, Google Docs, Google calendar, and more

Start async check-ins with your team for free.

Start your first meeting agenda for free.

Range was built to help teams run fewer meetings—and make the ones that stick around even better.

Run effective, inclusive meetings when you need to collaborate live, and check in asynchronously when you don’t. Your team will know what’s going on and stay connected—with more time to get things done.

Decrease your meeting load with Range.

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Too many meetings at work: What to do next
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