Boring-PresentationRaise your hand if you attend fewer meetings than you want to.

Hmm. For some reason, I don’t seem to be seeing many hands. 

Now raise your hand if you feel you are mostly invited to the correct meetings.

Crickets.

I haven’t met many folks who don’t find themselves at least semi-regularly double- or even triple-booked at any given time on their work calendar. In my own case, I know I’ve had to take to accepting and requesting meetings that are outside of “core work hours” just to get all of the right people in the same place (virtual or physical) at the same time

That leaves individuals with quite a dilemma. Which meeting do I actually attend? Interestingly, this often seems to have little correlation to how many meetings are actually accepted. I’ve found that many people, myself included, tend to accept meeting invitations because, well, it’s an invitation, and it’s rude to turn down an invitation. But ultimately a choice has to be made, rude or not. It often even leads to leaving in the middle of a meeting in order to make it to another one. How rude!

All of this leads to the question of what criteria are actually used to determine which meetings will be attended and which will be…deferred, to put it politely. Here are some of the top strategies I’ve considered when determining who shall be graced by my presence:

  • Which one did I accept first?
  • Which one am I most personally interested in?
  • Which one will I have the least direct involvement in so that I can spend the time catching up on email?
  • Which one is my boss leaning on me to go to?

Lately I’ve become more aware of the lack of any productive purpose demonstrated by these reasons, and it’s made me consider the question with a fresh perspective. Now, I try very hard to frame my strategy around one simple question:

  • Where will I add the most value?

Answering that question is astonishingly liberating. Knowing the answer to that question means that I can confidently reject conflicting meetings with solid reasons. I don’t have to say “I have another meeting scheduled,” which sounds dismissive. I can say instead “I feel that I can be of greater value to this other meeting for these reasons….” Note that I can say this to meeting organizers whose meeting I’ve already accepted. If something more appropriate to my responsibilities and expertise comes up, I can confidently turn down the one I accepted first.

One of the other advantages to this sort of openness and transparency to the meeting organizer is that there’s an opportunity for the organizer to respond in kind. “I understand your conflict. One of the outcomes of my meeting that I didn’t express with enough emphasis is X, and I feel you are crucial to achieving that outcome. Do you agree? If so, I can reschedule, or if you prefer you can send a proxy to speak and decide on your behalf.” 

Now there’s a real dialog going on, respectful and informative. We all can sympathize with having to cope with too many meetings. Raise your hand if you want to cope in a way that adds value.


Do you feel overwhelmed by the number of meetings on your calendar? How do you prioritize? Join in the conversation below or Contact Us.

Anthony Bopp, Scaled Scrum Facilitator
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