Managing Meetings to Excel – for Middle Management

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A few months back, I met an old friend for a very brief cup of tea. As we sat down, he immediately began pouring out apology after apology for not staying in touch. He said I wasn’t the only one. He just hadn’t been able to find the time to see any of his loved ones! And the reason was simple; all-day meetings were forcing him to stay at the office well after hours to get some real work done.

During our chat, I offered to take a look at his calendar and offer some advice. He hesitantly agreed but very interested to know what comes out of it. In our next meeting, I took one look at his schedule, and I could quickly see, every day was completely blocked out from 8 AM to 6 PM, not including early morning London calls.

To give some context, my friend sits squarely in the middle of his company’s corporate chain. He has moved up two rungs of his corporate ladder. Therefore, he has multiple project leaders reporting to him; each of which individually manages teams totaling up to fifty people.

Understandably, he believes that face-to-face time was required to ensure synchronicity within all these various projects. But the truth is; he is dead wrong. And it’s those meetings that are most likely hurting his efficiency and career growth. They have been holding him back from doing something more profound than just running the day to day BAU. Meetings are by nature extremely expensive activities. They burn multiple resources; time, money and perhaps most important; energy.

Many at middle management fear that by skipping meetings, they are creating a gigantic hole for another overzealous colleague to fill. But that is only a partial truth. They must focus on tangible deliverables including new initiatives. If a meeting is zapping your energy, you cannot expect to focus new initiatives or any innovation.

After sifting through his jam-packed agenda of one full month, we decided to sort out and find a strategy to manage all these meetings. First, I was able to divide his meetings into five categories.

1. Management meetings

2. Peer meetings

3. Meetings with external groups

4. Subordinate meetings

5. Miscellaneous meetings

Next, we determined which meetings were eating up the most amount of time. Meeting with external groups took up the most time, followed by miscellaneous meetings, then subordinate meetings, management meetings, and peer meetings.

We investigated each category and tried to determine which to attend, delegate and ignore as follows.

Attend:
First two categories, management, and peer meetings were mandatory and therefore, eliminating those would be utterly impossible.

The fourth category, subordinate meetings, again were determined as mandatory to ensure proper management among his workers.

Delegate or Be selective:
The third category, meetings with external groups, however, showed some flexibility. The majority of those meetings concerned integration with various external systems and therefore concerned functionality. Most of those meetings are technical, and two-thirds of those meetings could easily be delegated to team leads. However, these meetings can be attended when rare exceptions and crises occur.

Ignore:
It was in the fifth category, miscellaneous meetings, where we were able to find the most to cut. Within this category, we saw two subcategories; technical meetings and managerial meetings. We determined that technical meetings could be eliminated altogether.

Feeling confident in the in-depth analysis we completed on his schedule; we then moved to derive a set of general rules that could be utilized to either eliminate or delegate most meetings.

1. Any meeting without a clear agenda would not proceed until one could be procured.

2. If an agenda was simple enough to be addressed via email correspondence; then that route would be taken. If any confusion remained, a conference call would be utilized for clarification.

3. If the meeting’s nature were purely technical, that meeting would be delegated to a subordinate. To ensure that the manager was kept up to speed, the subordinate would be asked to write up minutes or summaries at meeting’s end.

4. A meeting must be attended if managerial decisions are required.

As a result, we were able to free up around 2 hours a day, which is over 20% of a typical work day.

Moreover, what often holds back middle management from freeing up their schedule is a fear of relying on subordinates. They often believe that their workers are not capable of fulfilling their duties to a high standard. Therefore, many undermine their subordinates and keep them away from crucial meetings. However, this is a grave mistake. A good manager must have strong, reliable subordinates who are more than capable of filling in at a moment’s notice.

Often, managers fear that relying on their subordinates could jeopardize job security. But for a real leader, it should be of little concern. In fact, grooming a suitable replacement can lead to a promotion. Often, upper management will keep a middle manager exactly where they are if they do not feel confident in their replacement personnel.

However, a smart manager never relies entirely on subordinates. They should be viewed as a source of enhancement and augmentation

In the end, middle management has two critical responsibilities– delivering better solutions not just to match but to exceed expectations while also ensuring that quality control is enacted on the technical works that their subordinates are fulfilling.

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