Typically, we'd be sitting there with our team doing our thing when a certain individual would show up and start telling us about leveraging our core competancies to find synergies in our every day work, or some nonesense like that. Eventually they'd get around to finally saying that what they really want us to do is write a small utility tool that generates a report that QA can use to assist customer trouble-shooting. What should have been a 5 minute conversation ends up being a 30 minute rant. Meanwhile, the whole task to write the tool is a 20 min job to begin with.
First, it sounds like you don't have a good structure for assigning work if people just can walk up and request things. If you have no official "request" structure, start. Use a system where people must write requests into a system or email the requests to you.
If you don't get manager support initially, start keeping track of the total time you spend, and the "lost" time you and your team wastes so you can use this as leverage (buzzword ftw).
Either way, you can respond to someone walking up with the following - "hey, we're really busy right now. Can you email me the requirements? I'll call/email you if I have any questions."
We get invited into meetings, and while there is an agenda, and strictly speaking we do stick to it, there appears to be a lot of fluff around every discussion. It's almost as if this verbosity is part of the company culture here. At the same time, our team has a lot of hard and interesting work to do.
Talk with your manager and address your concerns about this. If meetings are a waste of your time, your manager should know this. Don't just accept every meeting request blindly.
You may also be able to attempt to get meetings to be shorter - "hi, I would like to attend, but my time is limited this week - is it possible we can make the meeting 1/2 hour instead of an hour?" Meetings have an annoying tendency to fill the allotted time even when it may not be required.
Another option with meetings is to request of the asker, "hi, what specifically will you need me at this meeting for? my team has some critical deadlines this week and I'm not sure why I need to attend this." This helps them at least clarify why you are there ahead of time.
Are there any good tactics/strategies of achieving this?
I frequently find myself nodding and hoping they get to the point.
Don't do this - you want to make it clear you are busy, have other things to do, and otherwise don't want to listen to them ramble.
What you should do is take initiative and lead discussions by either
- Asking leading questions. Something like "are you suggesting we do XXXX?" can easily move discussion to a tangible item and avoid some of the BS.
- Asking clarification questions. If you don't have enough understanding to ask a leading question, just ask for clarification. Even if you are wrong it again can move the discussion to more details, which is what ultimately need discussing.
You mention your meetings have agendas which means you should always be able to find leading questions. Ask about the next agenda item if you have to.
Disclaimer: try the following at your own risk
- Play this video on a projector screen in meetings
- Make this your background
- Get a ticking kitchen timer and set it on the table. If people object, point out "I just want it to be really obvious we are spending a lot of time here so hopefully we can make this more efficient."
Or, buy this and put up in your office environment