Updated: Aug 28
How many meetings are too many? I was thinking about this after reading this article Dear Manager, You’re Holding Too Many Meetings (hbr.org) and it reminded me of a time when in post as a new Head Teacher, I started to ponder this myself. The job had changed greatly for me in the short time I had been there. I had expanded the school from one to two form; this entailed numerous meetings with the LA and builders etc. And then there were a whole host of other meetings to attend including: locality, HT conferences, parents, LA Quality Assurance, sales, new initiatives and government updates, SEND, budgets and finance, curriculum, governors and of course, numerous safeguarding meetings which were completely off the scale!
All these meetings were exhausting and though some of course, like safeguarding were important, I felt that attending every meeting that as HT I was invited to was impacting on the time I needed to devote to my strategic role so I began to choose carefully on the basis of importance and if I knew there would be notes sent through to delegates after the meetings then of course I didn’t need to attend in person.
I also began to think about whether I was holding too many meetings myself. The research in this article shows that newly promoted managers held almost a third (29%) more meetings than more experienced colleagues.
I began to consider the impact that weekly staff meetings were having on staff (as these weren’t the only meetings they were required to attend). I felt that meetings were contributing to teachers’ stress and were taking up far too much of their precious time at the end of the school day which they allocated for marking and paperwork. So, I decided to do something about it.
At the start of a new term, in our first weekly staff meeting I asked teachers what would be a reasonable time to end the meeting (I wanted to place a time limit on our weekly staff meetings to see if it made a difference). Surprise was followed by negotiation and a drastic reduction of the staff meeting time.
At first it felt unnatural to end the meeting at the required time; an eager SLT were eager to share their updates with teachers but now not everyone could contribute, and I was ruthless in stopping the meeting at the negotiated hour, sometimes mid topic which didn’t feel quite right (at first!).
However, I did this because I really wanted to show staff that I was serious about their well-being and this was one small step that I could take to help with their workload. The items that couldn’t be covered were sent through via email (which is of course another story altogether!) and sometimes just via a conversation with the people who were most involved. It did make a difference – staff appreciated the gesture and senior leaders in turn adopted the practice with their teams. It also helped me to prioritise and plan more carefully for the meetings rather than just hastily throwing a list of items together at the last minute.
The situation in the pandemic has helped us see that communication can be just as effective via emails and via zoom and this helped but This article in the Harvard Business Review states that “While there was a 20% decrease in the average length of meetings during the pandemic, the number of meetings attended by a worker on average rose by 13.5%. Ineffective meetings that waste our time can negatively impact psychological, physical, and mental well-being.” They discovered that meetings steadily increased in frequency and duration since companies transitioned to the remote workplace.
Now free from the constraints of the pandemic it would be so easy to fall back in that trap of thinking you need to attend every meeting.
Could putting ‘too many meetings’ on your list of things to consider today contribute to your staff well-being agenda, and could it help you as a school leader?