How to Gracefull Exclude Coworkers from Meetings, Emails, and Projects

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How to Gracefull Exclude Coworkers from Meetings, Emails, and Projects LoadingADD TO FAVORITES

You and about twenty of your coworkers are sitting around a crowded conference room table, discussing the details of some project.  Some people are fighting for attention, trying to get a word in. A few won’t stop talking.  Others have tuned the meeting out, retreating to their laptops or phones.  At the end of the meeting, the only real outcome is the decision to schedule a follow-up meeting with a smaller group—a group that can actually make some decisions and execute on them.

Why does this happen? People hate to be excluded, so meeting organizers often invite anyone who might need to be involved to avoid hurt feelings. But the result is that most of the people in the meeting are just wasting time; some may literally not know why they’re there.

Whether it’s a meeting, an email thread, or a project team, people need to be excluded from time to time.  Being selective frees people up to join more urgent engagements, get creative work done, and stay focused on their most important tasks.  How, then, can leaders do this gracefully?  Khalil Smith, Heidi Grant, Kamila Sip, & Chris Weller of the NeuroLeadership Institute examine this issue in the October 2018 Harvard Business Review.

And they recommend three steps.

First, focus on key employees to protect them from overload.  Most leaders try to pare down a meeting list or an email thread by looking for employees who clearly don’t need to be on it.  But we suggest the opposite approach.  Who is the valuable, collaborative employee you are most tempted to include?  Now ask yourself, is she really necessary?

We pose this question because one of the foundational concepts to thoughtful exclusion is known as collaborative overload.  The term was coined in a 2016 HBR cover story from leadership and psychology professors Rob Cross, Reb Rebele, and Adam Grant.  Drawing on original research, they claimed that up to a third of collaborative efforts at work tend to come from just 3 percent to 5 percent of employees.  These employees are often massively over-burdened and, in turn, at risk for burning out.

If the same small group of people get invited to every task force, every special project, every brainstorming meeting, there’s no way...

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