How to solve the problem of not having any meeting free time … make solving the problem a team sport!

As a Delivery Manager one of the things I am always wanting to ensure is the health of the team I am working with. I don’t want the team to be overloaded, and I want to support each team member to be at their best by ensuring they have time to focus on producing high quality work. 

On paper this sounds like a simple thing to do but in practice it can sometimes be tricky to achieve. In the past I have been guilty of trying to solve this on my own by doing things like avoiding booking meetings over lunch time. But this rarely solves the problem fully. You can’t always avoid lunch time meetings, especially in the agency world, and teams often need to take breaks at different times. 

So, to try and help achieve this here at Lagom, I tried a different approach. I started off by doing some research using my best friend Google to learn from other teams and organisations. I also spoke to my network about things they had tried to carve out some meeting free time in the day.  I noted all the ideas down on a virtual white board and documented all the pros and cons of each option. 

One of the ideas that came up was a one page profile for everyone in the team. We recently had a team away day, so ahead of this we gave the profiles a go and created one each. They covered the hours we preferred to work, when we preferred meetings to happen in the day, when we preferred to be left alone to focus, and anything else we wanted to share about how we preferred to work. 

Doing this as a team allowed us to see where we had similarities and where there were differences. I learnt that some of the team got anxious in longer meetings as they felt bad for not being able to reply to emails and messages. This might sound small but I am not sure I would have got to know this without the team profile session. 

We agreed as a team to try to work to the team’s preferences where possible, and to set our status on Slack so people would know when we were in a meeting and wouldn’t expect us to reply right away. 

We also had another collaborative session at our away day where we reviewed and voted on other ideas to ensure we have enough meeting free time. Doing this as a team meant we could all contribute ideas and consider the pros and cons of each option together. 

At the end of the away day we agreed:

We agreed: 

  • We won’t have meetings where possible between 12:00-1:00pm each day, and this has been booked in all our calendars as meeting free time. 
  • Team members will consider the diaries of colleagues, and their profile preferences when booking meetings  (e.g. by avoiding booking back-to-back meetings, or meetings first thing in the morning or last thing in the day where possible).
  • Where possible there should be a 5 minutes break between short meetings (e.g 30 mins) and a 10 minute break for longer meetings (50-80mins). Longer 90 minute meetings will still have a 10 minute break between meetings.
  • Where possible meetings should be no longer than 90 minutes and if they are, a break should be included in the agenda.
  • The team has agreed that meetings will start on time and focus on the topic of the meeting to allow for breaks between meetings.  

We have been trying this for a couple of weeks now, and so far it seems to be helping us to take breaks and have some focus time. We are going to keep an eye on this as a team and keep iterating things if we need to. 

In fact, on my things to do list today is a task to look at a Google Calendar setting called “speedy meetings’’ that will automatically reduce our meeting bookings to 25 mins and 50 mins so we don’t have to adjust this each time we book a meeting. 

I am really glad we approached this as a team. As a delivery manager, I have often taken this kind of problem on my own shoulders and never really solved it, and then felt really bad about it. So it is true what they say a problem shared is a problem halved and hopefully in this case well on the way to being a problem solved. 

I will come back and do another blog on how things are going, and if ‘speedy meetings’ work for us I will let you know.

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