How much time should managers spend in meetings?

Hi everyone,

I have heard from my colleagues, clients, senior leadership teams that they often spend all of their time daily/weekly in meetings and they hardly have any time to do “actual work”. Does this sound similar? “I have back to back meeting from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm” or “I only have 1 hour per day on average to do my work.”

I, too, often spend the bulk of my time in meetings of different types. I wonder if spending all day in meetings is universally bad? What should be a good percentage? Should a manager spend more than 50% of his time daily in meetings? It’s true that the more senior you get, the more demand your time becomes. Now, let’s explore together:

1. Output of a manager

Obviously, there are lots of opinion and research regarding this, for me, I am a fan of the late Andy Grove and what he described as “High output management“.

“A manager’s output = the output of his organization + the output of the neighbouring organization under his influence.”

In this case, “his organisation” could be understood as his/her team and “neighbouring organization” could be different teams. We also assume that as a manager, you have at least 1 person reports into you or you influence the work of at least another person in your company.

For example, I am the Head of Biddable and Performance Media for Essence in APAC. I manage a team of 40 people across different offices. The company would evaluate my performance/output by the output of the entire team of 40 people across APAC, not just by what I do on my own. Also I often work very closely with Client service team, strategy team and analytics team so what I do influence their output as well. To make sure we meet the client business objective, all teams often need to work together.

2.Could managers achieve their targets without meetings?

The common sense answer is probably not. As a manager, you need to brief your team of what is required, allocate projects/tasks to them and work with other teams. All of these require some form of interactions i.e. informal or formal meetings.

There are many types of meetings that a manager could have:

  • One to one with his team members? with his manager?
  • Team/department meeting?
  • Inter-department meeting?
  • Company meeting?
  • External client meetings: there could be so many sub types here.
  • Brainstorming meeting
  • Informal / casual 10-15 minute unplanned catch up/huddle?
  • Interview
  • Personal development review meeting
  • etc…

So now the question is really about how we should say no to meetings that we shouldn’t’ attend, understand the value exchange of different meeting types and proactively prepare for meetings that we should set up/attend. Perhaps a meeting best practice/guide would be useful?

3. Why would you not say No to meetings that are not relevant to you?

Well I am sure many of us could relate to this experience and somehow understand what goes wrong as well.

Is it because of?

  • Company culture set by their bosses or you are just following the crowd?
  • Too afraid to stand out or too polite to say no?
  • Fear of missing out (FOMO): what if there is important information being discussed in the meeting and I am not there?
  • etc…

It takes a lot of courage and consideration to say no to meeting that you shouldn’t attend or to suggest in a nice way how the meeting could be held better. Being proactive is the key. Also you have to trust that your team/other team would involve you when needed.

It takes courage to cancel meetings that you set up as well if you dont feel that it is going to be a meaningful meeting due to lack of key attendance, preparation etc…

4. My personal guide for meetings

Different meeting type requires somewhat different preparation and guide but I have found the below highly useful

  • What is the purpose of the meeting? Understand this and state it in the meeting invite or at the beginning of the meeting is crucial for success.
  • What are the expected outcomes?
    • While this is true for most meetings, for some meetings, you should not state clearly expected outcomes up front like when you have a catch up with your team members or colleagues to understand how they are doing or what is bothering them?
  • How long should the meeting be? Dont rush for it, allocate enough time to meet the objective.
  • Who should be in the meeting? Who should NOT be in the meeting?
  • What is the format of the meeting? could it be a 5 mins chat over the water cooler? A walk around the block? A formal recurring meeting in a meeting room with proper equipment?
  • Who should lead/facilitate the meeting? In certain type of meeting, you would actually need a professional facilitator like yearly planning meeting/brainstorm.
  • What is the meeting agenda? Normally whoever leads the meeting should have an agenda in mind and let everyone know before coming to the meeting.
    • Many time, I would set up the meeting but let my team know that they are in charge of the agenda. It’s perfectly fine as long as you establish the understanding up front.
  • What do attendees need to prepare before the meeting?
  • Parking lot: in case there are other unrelated issues or too many issues are presented
  • Be aware of human need i.e. toilet break and attention span.
  • Practice, practice, practice: I often ask different attendances how they think the meeting goes after to understand what could be done better next time.

It is quite safe to say that many of us have experienced great meetings and bad ones in the past so what I have are based on my personal experience only.

Please share what you think below 🙂

Update May 2019: my thinking has evolved over the years and here is the latest post on this topic less meeting, more thinking.

If you are interested in my writing about leadership and team management, check out this Leadership section on my blog.


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