Why Meeting Culture is Draining your Employee's Strength and Productivity Is your company culture spiraling into a meeting vortex? Here's how to take control and give your teams time to process information after meetings.
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Many of us treat our work calendars like a game of Tetris, cleanly lining up one meeting block upon the next with no space in between. Every minute counts, right? And "busy" tends to feel oh-so-productive.
But while it's hard enough to break out of habits that feel how we think they should, it's even harder to break free from a company culture that has bought into the meeting vortex fallacy. Here's a look at why allowing your company culture to give your teams' brains time to digest after each meeting is crucial.
Why back-to-back meetings are the straw that will break the camel's back
When you couple the fast-paced world of startups — or the face-saving world of corporate environments — with the one-click convenience of calendar booking apps, our day-to-day can quickly end up packed without employees having a say. That leaves them gasping for air. What's more, when a growing share of meetings are happening online, time itself takes on a virtual quality as it becomes synonymous with the tools we use to manage it – and we wind up with "virtually" no time to do our actual job.
Without offering any resistance to these forces, it almost seems inevitable for companies to experience meeting bloat — often with the best intentions. Unfortunately, these same intentions are detrimental to productivity. It's time to challenge the status quo and offer our brains the breathing room they need.
Much like a short period of rest between sets is built into every workout to optimize performance, transitioning from one meeting to the next requires a few minutes of recovery. Leaving out much-needed breaks takes a toll on our well-being. Just like our bodies, our brains need time to process and recharge. When we rush from one meeting to another, our stress levels compound, affecting our mental and physical health.
You won't necessarily notice at the moment. On the contrary, grabbing a third cup of coffee and riding the stress wave to meeting number four may provide that rush that makes us feel like we're getting things done. Instead, this continuous attention shifting and the non-stop demand of high alertness strain our brain's capacity to adapt and perform optimally.
The reason? Stress. Stress triggers the release of cortisol, the infamous stress hormone. Increased cortisol levels impede our ability to think clearly and compromise our immune system, making us more susceptible to illness. The overstimulation caused by unrelenting work schedules pushes us into a danger zone where problem-solving abilities are weakened, fatigue sets in and burnout becomes a haunting reality.
When meeting cultures are on auto-pilot
It's not just about high alertness and permanent hustle and bustle. The content of the meetings themselves matters too. Unproductive meetings are a significant source of stress, often leaving employees feeling drained and overwhelmed. These meetings, lacking agendas, moderators or clear goals, resemble aimless voyages through murky waters. The lack of structure and purpose eats away energy levels and harms productivity.
Without a clear agenda, meetings begin to meander, with participants becoming more interested in their phones than their colleagues. The result is wasted time, missed opportunities for clarity and direction and a downward spiral of employee morale. Unsurprisingly, employees tend to leave such meetings feeling frustrated and unfulfilled. What, then, is the cure for presentations that are overstuffed with text and too long? It's simple: bite-size segments that show an overview of progress are infinitely more engaging.
Furthermore, meetings quickly descend into chaos when there's no designated moderator or facilitator. Multiple team members with differing opinions and agendas pull a meeting in a dozen directions. Equally, numerous minutes of silence just waiting for the meeting to pass can turn meetings into a watched pot — and we all know that those never boil. A skilled moderator can steer discussions, keep participants on track and ensure everyone's perspectives are heard.
The absence of clear goals in meetings creates ambiguity and confusion. Participants are left wondering why they were invited and what they are expected to contribute. This lack of purpose drains motivation and dampens creativity, leaving attendees feeling like they're going through the motions rather than making meaningful progress. It also makes them feel like they have to make up for lost time. And this, in turn, contributes to squeezing more meetings back into what is left on the calendar. It's a vicious cycle.
Leaders need to leave their company's comfort zone
If your work environment resembles a never-ending meeting marathon, and if too many of those meetings sound like people are just thinking out loud, it's time to evaluate these signs of an unproductive and overbooked workplace. The false notion that being busy means being productive is deeply flawed. It's time to shift our perspective and understand that productivity stems from efficiency, motivation, and a well-rested mind.
Leaders play a crucial role in reshaping meeting culture within their organizations. By prioritizing their own well-being and assessing the impact of unrelenting schedules, they can set a new standard for healthier work environments. Leaders must have the courage to lead creatively, beyond the "busy" playbook — and not by showcasing their brutal schedules.
Finally, leaders need to demonstrate the importance of boundaries and respecting everybody's time, prioritizing time for focused and deep work. Every meeting is a potential distraction, after all. Leading by example should mean empowering teams to schedule breaks between meetings — and to allow employees to politely decline meetings where they are not essential. By fostering a culture that values quality over quantity, leaders can create an environment where interests are put before positions and intention is valued over complicity.
Injecting breathing room in the meeting room
Whether it's a breather between meetings or a breath of fresh air in your meeting culture, chances are there are things you can do to improve productivity by tweaking your existing approach to meetings. It's too easy to get sucked into the prevalent meeting culture of back-to-back schedules and arid agendas. It may feel busy. And it may feel safe to avoid trying something new. But it will never amount to treating time with the respect it deserves — which is the real key to getting things done!
Indeed, when you're stuck in a work environment where "productive" looks a little too much like "busy" and where "booked out" is considered "efficient," it's time to make a change. Set your default meeting time to 25 minutes, leaving a 5-minute buffer between calls. Block times in your calendar. Say no to unnecessary invites. Ask for agendas upfront. Save meetings for the less energized afternoons. There is a long list of things you can do without much effort to help shield against the inertia of the downward meeting spiral.
However, to instill a productive and healthy meeting culture across the organization, leaders must take responsibility for evaluating and prioritizing the well-being of their employees. By challenging the status quo and taking steps to improve meetings, such as setting clear agendas, appointing moderators, and defining goals and time constraints, they can foster a healthier and more efficient work environment.