It's not unusual for Hugh Welsh's schedule to be booked with back-to-back meetings throughout the day. The Royal DSM executive frequently has a line of people waiting outside his office door for some one-on-one time--a visible sign of a growing, and frustrating, business trend.
Endless meetings, or what University of Virginia researcher Rob Cross terms "collaborative overload," causes an imbalance between the amount of tasks needing to get done and the amount of time available to complete them. Cross researched managers and consultants at about 300 organizations and found they spend 90 to 95 percent of working hours in meetings, on the phone, or answering emails. That's up from 60 to 65 percent 10 years ago.
Recognizing they're losing productivity, businesses are taking steps to combat the problem. Some of them may be worth trying in your company. For example, after surveying the overload levels of its top executives, General Motors restructured teams to diffuse responsibility for decisions and trained leaders how to better manage their networks.
Beyond delegating, as a manager you must know when to separate yourself entirely. Health insurer Cigna's Steven Lambert tells WSJ he was working 12-hour days to catch up on work that accumulated while he was sitting in meetings and conference calls. To find a better balance, Lambert asked his team to invite him only to meetings that absolutely required his attendance.
When you must show up for a meeting, prepare ahead to make sure it's a productive one. For starters, send agenda materials in advance so attendees won't need to spend time familiarizing themselves with them after the meeting starts. Then make the purpose of the meeting clear early on. Whether you're there to have a discussion or make a decision, plotting from the get-go will help keep the meeting on task.