How to Exclude More People from Meetings & Mails

Freija KleijnenUncategorized

Meetings and Mails are the 2 biggest Miseries for companies today. It’s the triple M: Meetings – Mails – Miserie. 40 to 60% of plans are not implemented. People are too busy… attending meetings and answering emails. Stop it please.

As follow-up of our strategic sessions, we suggest customers to look at their S.E.C.S., Strategy Execution Critical Success factors. One part of the SECS is the overdose of meetings and mails leading to failure in execution of plans.

Whether it’s a meeting, an email thread, or a project team, people need to be excluded from time to time.

There are different type of solutions: in some companies we banned emails for non-customer facing employees till 10:00 AM. People started to focus on their plans and projects. It was a choice taken by a team of “happy @ work ambassadors”. No, not another happy at work drink. Real initiatives. You can do more ….

Imagine, you and about 20 of your colleagues are sitting around a meeting room table, discussing the details of a project. Some people are fighting for attention, trying to get a word in. Others won’t stop talking. Others have tuned the meeting out, retreating to their laptops or phones. At the end of the meeting, the only real outcome is the decision to schedule a follow-up meeting with a smaller group — a group that can actually make some decisions and execute on them.

Why does this happen? People hate to be excluded, so meeting organizers often invite anyone who might need to be involved to avoid hurt feelings. But the result is that most of the people in the meeting are just wasting time; some may literally not know why they’re there.

At the end of the meeting, the only real outcome is the decision to schedule a follow-up meeting

Whether it’s a meeting, an email thread, or a project team, people need to be excluded from time to time. Being selective frees people up to join more urgent engagements, get creative work done, and stay focused on their most important tasks. How, then, can leaders do this gracefully?

We recommend three steps to exclude people from meetings and emails.

1. Identify your key employees to protect them from overload: research shows that a third of strategic, collaborative efforts at work tend to come from just 3% to 5% of employees. These employees are often massively over-burdened and, in turn, at risk for burning out.

Most leaders try to make up a meeting list or an email thread by looking for employees who don’t need to be on it. But we suggest the opposite approach. Who is the valuable, collaborative employee you are most tempted to include? Now ask yourself: is she really necessary?

If the same small group of people get invited to every task force, every special project, every brainstorming meeting, there’s no way they can keep up with more valuable tasks. That’s why the first step to thoughtfully excluding people is to spot those employees at the greatest risk for collaborative overload, and then be incredibly selective about when to include them in meetings or other projects.

Thoughtfully leaving people out could become one of the greatest managerial moves a real leader makes.

2. Identify the people who are present everywhere more as a sign of prestige. If we look at who suffers from too many meeting and mails, we end up with a second group of employees. Those who are too busy to be included in everything and who believe being over-included is a sign of prestige and status.

The employees who suffer from too many meetings and mails take on such heavy burdens in part because they are compelled by this ancient impulse: they naturally want to help those whom we consider close to them. It’s the same reason leaders over-include: They want others to feel like they belong.

3. The acts of excluding and being excluded are intensely emotional, even when people know they’re invited to too many meetings and resent getting too much email. The kind of exclusion that doesn’t trigger backlash or lower productivity must address people’s social needs.

It’s up to leaders, therefore, to identify both groups and show them their time is better spent on projects with the highest return. This is your role as a leader. To be pragmatic, these are a couple of phrases you can use to explain your position:

  1. “I know you’ve got a lot of important work on your agenda, and I’d like to keep you off of this upcoming project so that you can focus on what you’ve already got. What do you think?”
  2. “I’d like to take you off of this project, because someone else has a similar point of view. At the same time, you’d be able to add a ton of value to this other project because you bring a unique perspective. Would you be open to that?”
  3. “I noticed that a couple of deadlines have slipped recently and that’s pretty unusual for you. Are there meetings, projects, or other things on your calendar that are consuming time or energy, that we might be able to reallocate? We all have times where we need some breathing room. How can I help?”

When leaders approach exclusion with employees’ social needs in mind, they can be more thoughtful in how they frame their choice.

Think back to that chaotic meeting with 20 people. Thoughtful exclusion pares down that meeting to a core team of six or seven. Since the project manager now thinks hard about whose skills and time are most valuable — and whose would be better served elsewhere — she graciously decides you (and a dozen other people) have more important things to work on. As a result, the project reaches the finish line earlier and those employees who were excluded make greater progress on their own work.

Scale that behavior throughout an organization, and you have more people making better use of their time, tackling projects where their contributions are known, not assumed, to add value.

Thoughtfully leaving people out could become one of the greatest managerial moves a real leader makes.

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About Ides Ticket: Founder of Business Markers. Worked at P&G, Coca-Cola and MTV Networks. Member of several boards. Gadget lover, inspirator and challenger, strategist, husband, father of Arne and Kaat.

If you would like to learn more about strategy making, telling or doing (eg SECS), feel free to contact me: