I had a dream (about meetings)
I was awaken by loud noises outside my window, in my
half awaken state I felt a longing for excitement and wished
that it was not the garbagetruck but perhaps a snowplow or
perhaps a riot.
But alas, it was the garbagetruck.
I was however confident that I had several exciting meetings to look forward to
during my workday!
- Useful informative meetings with clear outcomes and no people sitting with laptops open or checking phones.
- Meetings where everyone had common goals and common problems and where resources where to be allocated where they were needed the most, to fullfill the common goalsof our organisation.
- Meetings where nobody blamed other people not present at the meetings, and where every powerpoint slide and excelsheets felt relevant to everyone at the meeting.
- Meetings where corporate values were deconstructed into meaningful clear ways of working that everyone could relate to.
Then I actually woke up, wishing for the riot.
Much has been written about having better meetings.
I am a strong proponet of something a bit more radical.
Having less meetings, a lot less.
Productive people in general like to be able to focus,
on doing work. Talking to others when they need input in the form of information,
or inspiration, or feedback, or just want to laugh and socialize.
Meetings generally involve meeting people and talking about things.
An important question here is: "What do people mean when they talk about things?"
Another slightly more specific question I often ask people when I coach an organisation is:
"What would you do if you didnt have to go to all those meetings ?"
The answer I would like to get from a manager is of course something along the lines of:
"I would go around and ask my employees what they need and what I can help them with, and encourage them to take decisions of their own"
From a project manager or similar I would like something like:
"I will run around and chat/socialize with people so they know me and
we have clear fast lines of communication and make sure that they have all prerequisites for their task at hand"
A programmer, engineer etc usually needs no question, they just want to do their core job, and get the information they need when they need it.
So why dont they? All of the above, just do this?
Well they often try to, but meetings get in the way.
Lets look at some general types of meetings.
Things in this case could also include stuff.
Done to let everyone know what things others are doing and perhaps change priority or change who will do the thing. Especially important if other people are doing things in other countries.
Done to inform people about things they "need" to know, but for some reason cant find out through emails or information on a wiki or by just talking to each other about the things, in the corridor.
Done to have everyones input in order to make huge vitaly important long term decisions! (every week) that cannot be the wrong decision or be changed so they need to be signed of on by a manager with a certain responsibility/paygrade, these decisions are always correct as they were made by the person who knows the most about things.
Some of these meetings are neccessary, especially when people dont sit in the same house next to each other. But we can often reduce the frequency by applying some new ways of working.
Let me explain how we looked at meetings in a specific agile project,a big one.
The project involved very complex hardware and 100+ teams spread over many sites.
We wanted to maximize focus, to generate a high throughput of verified high quality software.
We couldnt afford meetings to take to much time away from productive people.
We couldn’t wait for decisions and we knew that many of them would be the wrong ones anyways.
We came up with the following enablers for having less meetings:
1. As much as possible, try to seat people together, so that meetings become informal spontaneous discussions, drawing on whiteboards etc.
2. Make smaller decisions on a lower level, short term decisions if possible, then change them if they are wrong. Decisions made by individuals are not important, way of working is. Less decisions in meetings.
3. Make information available online, but change it often to keep it up to date. (good job for a manager).
4. Make meetings non mandatory, show up to bring up
5. If a meetingseries doesnt yield the results you want, drop it or change it.
6. Make meetings mainly about HOW we should work, how we can work smarter (and have less meetings)
Working as a scrummaster in this project I only had to go to the “scrum meetings”, daily, and a planning/retro at the sprint start/end. Sometimes a backlog refinement and a sprint review/demo if applicable for that sprint.
I know that you may be in companies and projects where priorities are changed often, resources reallocated and accountability is a big part of the culture, but that doesnt mean that you cant improve.
If you are torn apart by different stakeholders who wants you to dance AND balance an elephant on your nose?
Make sure every stakeholder can see what you priority is at any given time.
Visualize on an online trelloboard for instance (takes 10mins to setup)
Most of all, fight for your right to have time.
Does it sound too simple?
Dont I realize how important your meetings are, that customers are affected etc.
Yes I do.
But your time is your life.
And that is pretty important.
Take back control of your time.
Or you can just riot!