If you’re a manager overwhelmed by the number of meetings you have each day, you’re not alone. Many managers’ schedules are consumed with meetings - meetings with upper management, team members, clients, and so on.
If you’re a team member who needs to schedule meetings that include your manager, you may feel frustrated by your manager’s lack of availability and have to wait longer than necessary to move work forward.
Many organizations operate under an unspoken assumption that managers need to attend every meeting that remotely applies to them. This is a flawed assumption that breaks down under scrutiny. In fact, questioning this assumption can lead both managers and employees to have more sane, productive, and enjoyable workdays.
Time is limited. Managers and employees need to find other ways to provide input and stay informed of meeting content, without attending every meeting.
How Do I Know if a Manager (or Anyone) Needs to Attend This Meeting?
Here are four questions that address the larger issue of manager meeting attendance:
What specific value does the manager contribute? Define the value the manager brings to a particular meeting. Is it information about a specific project? Feedback for the team from upper management? Conflict resolution skills for a team that lacks cohesion? Something else?
Does the manager need to be present in the meeting to contribute this value? Does this value need to be delivered in real-time during the meeting? If it’s possible to spend ten minutes in advance of the meeting contributing this information by email, then the manager has just salvaged about 45 minutes from an hour long meeting to work on other priorities.
Can the participants achieve the meeting outcome without the manager present? If the meeting objective is to make a decision about an issue, is the decision made by consensus or does the manager have final say? If a manager is comfortable delegating decision-making to the team, she can share ideas in advance by email or in person and trust that the group will consider these ideas when making the decision.
What else can the manager be doing during that time? Consider the opportunity cost. Will the team get more value from the manager’s presence at the meeting or from her focusing on other work? (Note that multi-tasking during meetings sets an inappropriate example for team members.)
No One’s Worth is Equivalent to the Number of Meetings She Attends
The assumption that managers (or anyone for that matter) needs to attend every meeting may be driven by several factors from both management and employees - fear of missing out, anxiety that a job get done well, a need for control, a need for authority in the room, and a stagnant company culture. Don’t let these factors stop you or your organization from trying to create a healthier culture. If a manager decides that she will not attend a meeting, she still needs to stay engaged in these two ways:
Weigh in on the content and help shape the meeting agenda ahead of time.
Get notified of meeting outcomes afterward and engage as needed.
Both managers and employees can follow these actionable steps to change their meeting culture for the better.
Solution 1. Share thoughts before the meeting.
What Can Managers Do?
Provide feedback and coaching on the meeting’s desired outcomes and agenda. To ensure the meeting outcomes are aligned with your expectations, share feedback on the desired outcomes and agenda. Try to do this 24-48 hours in advance so that the meeting leader has time to incorporate the suggestions. If necessary, provide coaching so the meeting leader feels confident about accomplishing the goals of the meeting.
Share thoughts on the meeting content. To give your input on the content of the meeting, write your thoughts in a note or email or, better yet, spend a few minutes with the meeting leader to be sure they understand your ideas and priorities.
What Can Employees Do?
Create space for the manager to weigh in. Reflect on whether you need your manager to accomplish the meeting’s desired outcomes. Ask the manager to weigh in on the agenda. Make sure you and the manager are aligned regarding the content and desired outcomes of the meeting.
Delight a manager by making her presence optional. You can also let the manager know her presence is optional. For some teams, this is a better practice than not inviting managers at all.
Solution 2. Stay informed of the result.
What Can Managers Do?
Request a timely meeting summary. Ask team members to share the meeting summary with you within 24 hours after the meeting ends, with decisions, next steps, and key insights highlighted. This keeps you clear about next steps.
Acknowledge the effort. Let your team know you’re still “in the loop” even if you’re not in the meeting and offer feedback if you have some. This reinforces the confidence and ability of your team members to get great things done without your constant presence.
Step in and offer direction, when necessary. If next steps or decisions came out of the meeting that are amiss, step in. Just because you gave the team the latitude to meet without you doesn’t mean you aren’t still responsible for the team’s success. Be sure to communicate in a way that promotes trust and does not diminish the work that went into the meeting conversation. If you have questions about a decision that was made, ask the team or meeting lead for clarification. Then, if you still disagree, the door is open to share your perspective on why you disagree and to make a better decision.
What Can Employees Do?
Share meeting notes in a timely manner. In addition to keeping the manager in the loop, bring questions or unresolved issues to the manager’s attention so work can move forward.
Present the meeting decisions and next steps clearly for your manager. Crystallize the meeting outcomes into decisions, next steps and key insights, so your manager doesn’t need to read through the full meeting notes to get these key pieces of information.
Don’t be dismayed if the manager redirects an outcome. Sometimes you might be in a great meeting in the absence of a manager that yields a specific outcome, only to have the manager come along after the meeting and change direction! It’s OK to ask the manager why this happened - possibly a manager has received some new information, or perhaps you didn’t spend time ahead of the meeting to get her input. Know this will continue to happen on occasions, but also look for ways to improve your process going forward - the answer is not to revert to including the manager at every meeting again.
A Final Note
It’s vital that organizations have open and honest conversations about expectations for meeting attendance. Establishing a set of meeting norms that includes definitions of essential personnel for various types of meetings is a great start to addressing many of these issues.
How do you decide which meetings to attend? Are managers in your organization attending too many meetings? Does your organization have a policy or procedure to determine who should attend which meetings? What’s a quick next step to start changing this habit of overactive meeting attendance?