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There are two similar questions about too many meetings/meeting overload. My question has a third component which distinguishes it from those questions. I have a manager who calls for anywhere from multiple meetings per day to multiple meetings per week and they don't have a mission statement or agenda, and nothing really gets accomplished.

It appears as though he is "at the end of his career" and he feels that he can justify his work as a manager by attending as many meetings as possible. The issue is that I am in a technical software field where I need to work with code, consult with software engineers, and these tasks are very time consuming. Other managers, including the CTO himself and vice presidents, frequently butt heads with my manager, decline his meetings, tell him that he's wasting their time and walk out, and sometimes even get a bit heated about it... Additionally, other members of my team who work for him share the sentiment about the meetings but nobody knows what to do because he often makes disparaging and sarcastic ego-driven remarks about those who don't show up to his meetings or leave early. This makes him seem unapproachable to bring this problem up to.

Some examples of these meetings include scheduling meetings with software vendors for 1 hour in length to discuss software with no purpose and no need and without my or any other team members request to do so - there would be absolutely no intention to purchase the software. This also has the bad side effect of now I have vendor salesmen with my email thinking we're interested in their product, pestering me. Creating meetings with software engineers, pulling them away from their tight deadlines, to just "get their feedback" on a subject that they are not familiar with, don't care about, and have no interest in giving insight into, having a weekly meeting with two separate teams that report to him but have no reason to work together and have little in common, so one half of the room falls asleep for the first half of the meeting, then the other falls asleep for the second, offering lunches to other teams to just discuss random software topics to "get them engaged," and more.

Every time I attend a meeting with any other team, they have a clear goal, objective, agenda, and they reduce the time to the smallest possible time needed to get action items. In the meetings my manager makes, there are never any action items at all. In fact, when we bring up the topic of action items, he says "we're just discussing." When we bring up wanting to take any action, he acts surprised and says we're thinking too far ahead.

Basically, he seems to harbor a culture of doing nothing other than finding reasons to make more meetings. He's been in the industry for several decades as a manager.

However, my team has a lot of "internal customers" and those customers need real work to be done. So I am constantly battling having to stop what I'm doing to spend hours in these types of meetings while still having the pressure to perform for my internal customers.

I really don't know what else to do than to continue to try and fight off as many useless meetings per week as possible. But it becomes tiring. Do you have any suggested course of action to resolve this issue for good? Would you say that this is a severe issue that should cause me to take some serious action such as considering leaving the team or employer?

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Talk to your direct superior. If it's the manager in question, great! If not, even better. Make it clear that you can only spend so much time in meetings per week and still meet your deadlines. Come with numbers and explain that you already spend a set amount of time in other meetings and that you need to prioritize your time in order to stay on top of your work. Try to present it as professional as possible and avoid any direct attacks at the manager or voicing your personal opinion of him. Your time is valuable and you should try to present your problem in a way that makes your company see that your time, and their money, is being wasted.

It's important that you talk to your direct superior first and only if they are unwilling to take action go to HR or above their head.

If you like your job I would not start looking for a new one just because of the manager. It seems like you are not the only one bothered by his meetings and it likely won't go long till your company is forced to take some kind of action to prevent him wasting the companies time.

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You seem to have two issues with the meetings:

  1. They are useless and badly run.
  2. You need to be doing work other than attending your manager's meetings.

Both are probably valid, but you may get further by concentrating on (2). (1) is a matter of opinion on which your opinion is different from your manager's. You are more likely to be able to document the demands on your time.

Present it to your manager in terms of prioritization. If you spend X hours a week in the manager's meetings you will be unable to complete all your work on time. Which items should slip? Try to negotiate a fixed ratio between time in the manager's meetings and time doing other work. Set your schedules based on that ratio, and ask you manager to prioritize meetings if he invites you to too many to fit in the agreed time.

  • Note that while this is the generally correct approach, it doesn't safeguard against the manager knowingly (and uncaringly) squandering their employees' performance. If they're on their way out anyway and are sufficiently selfish about not being productive, they can agree to the time wastage and ride it out anyway. In the end, unless the manager is outed (at the time or afterwards) the bad performance will reflect on OP. And even if the manager is outed, there might still be reputation damage to OP. – Flater Oct 11 at 8:41
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First of all

Other managers, including the CTO himself and vice presidents, frequently butt heads with my manager, decline his meetings, tell him that he's wasting their time and walk out, and sometimes even get a bit heated about it

This mean that your manager is fully aware of what he's doing and how it impact other poeple jobs. He just don't care. It might be due to what you wrote or he don't want his work to end and try to make impression of very busy, very involved employee.

So you shouldn't care either about hurting his feelings or blatantly showing him his meetings are not top priority. Some things are important but some are importanter.

I once read a great advice - Meeting without agenda is a coffe break. If you MUST attend such meeting act as you are on coffe break. Don't engage, don't take notes, take a laptop with you and continiue your work.

As an advice on how to permanently avoid going on such meetings. Block yours and your team time in calendar. Use it as a time chart, road map, be already "in a meeting". Do it for the whole period of time you know you will have work. That way any meeting request will bounce back showing your time slots as already taken. If requested to "find time" ask for an agenda. No agenda, no need for meeting.
IF your manager have the authority to override and impose such meeting you will have only proof you need to go to the upper managment.

Regarding his remarks teach yourself, and your team to answer such with
"I had job to finish and there was no agenda so I assumed I was invited by mistake".
"I postpone all feedback meeting until the task end".

As an example - during my crunch time i set an auto reply to all invitations

Hello,
Thank you for your invitation. As we are now close to ending our project my time is limited.
To make the best of it please make sure all meetings have a set agenda, my presence is required by at least 2 other participants and meeting time can be alloted into 20 minutes slot.
Any invitation that won't meet ALL of the requirements will be denied
Best Regards and Thank you for your understanding and cooperation

Bottom line - As your manager bosses are aware of his meeting behaviour you can go straight to them with complain that it interrupt your work and make it harder to meet deadlines for internal vendors.

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Go to the meeting. Ask “Do you need me in this meeting, because I have a lot of work to do. You can always call me when you need me”. See what the answer is and go from there.

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The CEO of a big consulting firm once told me this:

whenever you walk into a meeting, you must gain something from the meeting. Write it out in a notebook before you walk into the meeting, and be sure to cover that before you walk out of the meeting. If the reason you were in the meeting is already covered, ask politely to walk out. If there is really no reason for you to be in a meeting, try your best to avoid the meeting.

You're in a meeting either because someone will provide information to you, or viceversa, or both. That's basically the only reason anyone should attend a meeting. I take this very seriously and during the years I developed some sort of framework to handle meetings:

  • Always be sure that there is a meeting description that is available to the attendants before the meeting. Maybe you're lucky enough that someone else is doing this. Otherwise, do it yourself: whenever someone dares to say 'Bob, we're having a meeting today at 5', ask what will be treated in the meeting, compile a resume, and send it to the attendants via email, calendar or whatever tool you have.

I'm aware this may be impossible in some places as can be perceived as you trying to play the boss role. But if you can do this, do it. You can always pretend you're doing this because you're enthusiastic about the meetings :-)

  • When you walk into a meeting, if someone doesn't present and consider the points to be considered on the meeting, do it yourself:

Ok, so I annotated those points: bla, bla, and blah. Is there anything else we need to talk about today? No, okey, we start talking bla...

Getting right to the point is absolutely critical in meetings, as people usually start to discuss about any kind of shit.

  • Whenever the point which is critical to you is covered, ask politely to leave.

So you people doesn't need me anymore, right?

  • If possible, try to refuse to walk in into a meeting if you don't know what's the reason they need you to be there in the first place. Make them be clear about the reason they need you in a meeting.

  • Some companies has a policy of always producing a minute after a meeting, to demonstrate what was effectively treated in the meeting and that it was productive to some point. If you have some position of power, do your best to get your company to follow this rule: propose it, talk about it to any of your bosses, whatever. This really is good to prevent bored bosses to produce meetings out of thin air.

  • If everything fails, check out this resource.

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