Perhaps you’ve heard of the fabled 10x developer (or 10x engineer) – the one on the team that’s 10x as productive as their average colleague. While many, including myself, doubt the existence of such people, I do think there are meetings that are 10x as productive as the average meeting. My goal in this article is to break down their properties so we can have 10x fewer meetings.
Meetings are a communication mechanism. In the context of software development, most “actual work” falls under one of the following tasks.
Meetings are none of these things. Meetings are ways for us to communicate about these things. Meetings serve the same purpose as an email, a call, or a slack channel – they’re just another medium through which we can talk about how to accomplish tasks.
There are many companies that make the goal of a 10x meeting more attainable because they set the bar for meeting productivity right in the dirt, we just have to lazily roll over it.
That said, meeting face-to-face has its benefits. According to Meetings.org, only 7% of communication is spoken, with the other 38% being tone, and the last 55% being body language. With those stats in mind, I’m happy to replace an email or slack conversation with a meeting using the following rules of thumb.
- There will be a lot of back and forth, and the higher level of communicative effectiveness in a meeting will be more efficient.
- There’s an emotional or personal component to the discussion. For example, people are being let go and it would be insensitive to handle that over text. Alternatively, your team feels they need face-to-face time every once in a while to maintain a personal connection with remote coworkers.
- Synchronicity is needed. For example, we need to come to an urgent decision and asynchronous chats are taking too long.
- A complex or important subject needs to be communicated en masse. For example, changes to the 40-page employee agreement need to have their important points emphasized to the entire company.
Now that we know the goal of a good meeting is to communicate in ways that are more effective than text channels, we can get into the properties of a good meeting. Apart from needing to fall into one of the categories discussed above, there are additional criteria.
Good meetings have a clear purpose.
- Are we finalizing a decision on the new architecture?
- Is there an urgent matter that needs to be handled right now?
- Is there a difficult discussion/debate that needs to be hashed out?
- Are we having a kickoff hurrah to hype everyone up about the new features we just released?
- Good meetings are as short as possible but no shorter. It always sucks to be in the middle of a productive discussion only to have people start dropping off for their next meeting.
- Good meetings are scheduled for a reason, bad meetings find a reason to fill the schedule. For example, it’s generally a bad idea to have a recurring “engineering all-hands” every Tuesday at 2. How about when something interesting happens that concerns all engineers you schedule the meeting then?
- Good meetings end with an action item or a decision_._ 90% of the time, the action item should not be another meeting.
If you’re a scheduler, you can obviously stop scheduling dumb meetings. Remember – the number of meetings you and your coworkers are attending is not a KPI, it’s not a measure of productivity. In fact, freeing up your team’s time to get actual work done does have a positive impact on productivity.
If you have no control over all the meetings you’re invited to, start declining them politely. Be nice, don’t get yourself fired, but if we’re all are more aware of the meeting madness we can mitigate the damage.
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