Let me ask you a question.
Have you ever had a meeting scheduled 45 minutes after the stand-up? Have you been able to do any productive work before it?
Hardly can get into any deep enough focus before such distraction. It’s frustrating, I know!
Also, do you remember that time when some important decision was to be made at 7 freaking PM?? You didn’t have any energy and not so invested in making the best choice at this point, which is entirely fair at this time.
Nor your colleagues.
How successful was that decision then? Not so great, I guess.
What do you think about heated discussions that can’t come to a close after 4-5 hours straight? Yeah, I know, you’re lucky to have had that lunch break in the middle…
And how often did you feel that you shouldn’t have been invited to the meeting in the first place? Because you really don’t have anything to contribute or you trust others to make the right decision?
If any of these questions evoke bad memories of worst meetings in you, then you’re in for a treat.
Here is a short list of four rules to make your team’s meetings effective again:
1. Early in the morning, right after the stand-up.
As a knowledge worker, you don’t want to have 30-60mins between your start of the day and important meeting. You’re likely not to be able to focus on anything deeply.
It’s frustrating, I know!
Also, if the decision is important, you want your people not to be tired when making it. Otherwise, they’ll be pretty bad decision-makers, right?
2. Short. Non-negotiable time limit.
If you allow your meetings to run more than 15-60mins, then you’re likely to have 5-6 hours discussion where opposing sides with strongly-held opinions can’t agree on the decision.
Put a hard time limit in place.
This will force people to not waste time on what’s not important in the meeting.
3. The 2nd best decision is better than no decision at all.
Have a team come up with some decision, even if not everyone agrees. Adopt the mantra “A decision is better than no decision. We can always correct the course when we have more information.”
4. Minimum viable audience.
If you can make this decision with only 3 people instead of 12, then go for it, and pull people as you need them and if you need them only.
Contributed by commenters:
5. No meeting without an Agenda
(by Martin Riedel)
If you get an invite without agenda and unclear goal, just decline it. If somebody asks why tell them that there was no agenda.
6. Rule of the two feet
(by Dimitri Merejkowsky)
If you feel like you can’t contribute to the meeting in any useful manner, or you don’t think that the meeting has any value for you or for your team/org, then just use your two feet—leave the meeting.
Surely, everybody needs to understand this rule and accept that this might happen.
7. No phubbing. No screens allowed other than presenter’s one.
(by Dimitri Merejkowsky)
Don’t use your phone or tablet—they’re forbidden. Some apps allow whole group to block their screens on their phones for the time of the meeting, and if somebody phubbs, then the entire group gets “punished” in some virtual way (for example, your virtual tree dies, and you have to start over).
If the meeting needs a presenter’s laptop, this is alright. If you need to take notes, then do it on pen&paper.
If you have somebody who protocols the meeting, they can have a protocol laptop (single-purpose device: there should be no distractions possible on such a laptop).
8. Have a facilitator
(by Oleksii Fedorov)
Have a person responsible for running the meeting. This shouldn’t be a manager of any sort. The facilitator’s role is a role of servantship, not management.
They’ll make sure that we’re not diverging too much from the agenda, keep track of time, and make sure to table discussions that are not going anywhere or are too disruptive for goals of the meeting.
This person should be a rotating role so that every team member gets a chance to be one.
9. Manage your manager/stakeholder… if you have to
(by Oleksii Fedorov)
You know, that troublesome scenario where people avoid their commitments (decided from the meetings) pretending that they’ve forgotten or misunderstood, etc. This fosters a lot of negativity and conflict. Oh, and especially if they are a stakeholder or something like this.
In this case, documenting all the decisions made is great, and sending them as an email to:
- Make sure both parties are on the same page and wish to commit to this.
- To hold everyone accountable, including your stakeholder(s) or manager(s) later when “sh$t hits the fan.”
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How do you improve your meetings? Share in the comments!
(picture from Pexels)
Top comments (17)
I made a totally different experience on this one. After watching our "meeting culture" a while, it turned out that most people tend to be most productive in the morning, when the brains are still fresh.
When the day starts with a stand-up and (as suggested) even other meetings after this, the precious time in the morning is wasted in reporting and discussions with others.
When the "real work" (sorry, but this is most of the time what we're thinking, aren't we?😉) starts, peoples energy and motivation is already at a lower level.
Maybe they already feel, like they "lost" a discussion with a manager on how to do something, and are now upset. Or their "super elegant mega technical solution" was not appreciated as much as anticipated. And let's face it: Lunch break is only 0.5h / 1h / 1.5h ahead, so it doesn't pay out to start something big now, does it? 😎
Because of this insight, we moved the daily scrum an hour before the end of work (still time boxed at 15 minutes). Everyone tells what he did today, what he plans for tomorrow, just as suggested. Afterwards, there are 45 minutes left for meetings, so people have to express themselves short because they want to finish work soon.
Of course, sometimes the timespan won't be enough and there might be a meeting an hour before standup or something, but in general this works out pretty well, because the productive time from morning until shortly before finishing work is available to be...well, productive.
I also made the experience, that Meeting Days are beneficial once in a while like Martin wrote.
Why do you need meetings that "are not productive?"
I think I expressed myself wrong: Of course meetings should always be productive or canceled.
What I wanted to point out is, that in my experience it is more productive to program with a "fresh" mind and have meetings later :-)
It depends on the meeting. What if you need to make some decisions before you can program even? So they are blockers?
In general, though, I agree, that if programming activity is more productive than meeting activity, then it should go first. Still, meeting at the end of the day is basically useless (if it involves any decision-making), so having it somewhere at 2-3 as a middle ground might be a better idea.
Well in our case if we have to make decisions, we make it the day before 😊
It's really the same thing, just a different time...
I'm just coming out of our daily and a short "close-up" afterwards, because we had to discuss a little something for the work of my colleague for tomorrow. Now he knows what to do, has a bit time left to prepare his task and can start right in the morning having all the information he needs.
Of course this is a bit of personal taste - but as I wrote, it's just my experience that this works better for us.
This makes sense. It seems like you have the energy at the end of the day to make these decisions. And probably these don’t take much time (we’re not talking about 2-3h meeting in the evening that forces everyone to overtime (w/o being paid for it), right?).
Exactly, I think now we got the same idea :-)
One of the most effective approach to better meetings is No Meeting without an Agenda.
A few years ago, I worked for a customer where meetings were the answer for almost everything - but no one bothered writing down the questions. After a while, it got extremely annoying and our team started to decline every meeting request with no fixed agenda. From that point on, meetings got shorter and actually had an outcome.
What I also like is to create Meeting Days - i rather have a day completely filled up with meetings than 2 meetings every day. (Yep, I know - these days suck in their own way)
Yep! This is key. The problems I describe tend to happen even to meetings with an agenda, though.
I feel like it varies from team to team and their workflow. In the teams that I often work it’s better to have 0 or 1 meetings per day instead, where a meeting is 15-60 mins. This also makes sense because we are knowledge workers and we can’t really do more than 3-5h of deeply focused work in a single day sustainably. One meeting per day + coffee breaks + water cooler conversations + your 4h of focused work amount to a full working day.
Some other ideas:
If you feel like you don't belong in the meeting or get bored, it's OK for you to leave. Of course, make sure the whole team understand this rule before it's applied.
No screens! If you need to take notes use pen and paper instead. Phones and tablets are forbidden. Maybe one laptop plugged into a big screen for everyone to see.
ROTI is a nice tool for the meeting's organizers to get better at their task.
If you need to write a report of what was discussed, do it right after the meeting. The more you wait, the more you'll forget. If relevant, include in the report what need to be done and by whom.
It’s actually a nice thing for teams to even understand that there should be a meeting facilitator, and somebody needs to play this role, and be in the know-how about facilitation.
Also, your 4th point makes me think of really troublesome scenarios where people avoid their commitments (decided from the meetings) pretending that they’ve forgotten or misunderstood, etc. This fosters a lot of negativity and conflict. Oh, and especially if they are a stakeholder or something like this.
In this case, I think documenting all the decisions made is great, and sending them as an email to:
Great post! We're a remote team, and we've thought a lot about our meeting frameworks as well.
We wrote a post about deciding whether decisions are worth a meeting in the first place: medium.com/monolist/to-meet-or-not...
How do you decide when a meeting is worth it, and when you should make decisions async?
I really like this list Oleksii and will refer back to it in the future for sure!