One of my biggest frustrations at work is meetings. As a developer I have always loathed these pointless time-wasting breaks in my working day and I have to say it has not got better now later in my career.
My loathing (and I think this goes for most people) of meetings is not in the concept of meetings and discussions, these are one of the most important aspects of our work. How else are you going to find out what it is we are expected to achieve. My issue is with the format of meeting.
Too many times I have seen the meeting circus spiraling out of control and people spending their whole day in meetings. Perhaps all these meetings are really important and there are many details to discuss, but I have seen rooms full of participants that have no direct connection to the content being discussed. Sometimes I also believe that the “meeting circus” stems from peoples roles being too vague and they don’t know what is expected of them so a full calendar of meetings must mean that they are really busy.
Better meetings is a cost saving
So let us put the cost of a meeting in perspective. Imagine a meeting with 5 people costing €50 an hour, imagine if that meeting runs for 3 hours and there is no concrete actionable outcome from that meeting. Then the meeting has cost €750. People will also be tired and totally unfocused coming out from that meeting, that cost is probably much higher.
Now imagine the same 5 people costing the same spending one hour in a meeting. They also took an hour each getting up to speed on the topic and the organiser spent one hour on the agenda and the follow up on the administration.
That’s a meeting costing €550 and you probably also have something actionable that came out from it.
So how can you or your company mitigate the meeting circus spiraling out of control? Well here is my suggested solution. I call it the “meeting manifesto”.
In my view there are two types of meetings, Formal and Informal. A formal meeting to me is slightly more structured, an example would be a meeting that is made up of several different people from different parts of the business or project. An informal meeting is more when a couple of developers gather to work out a particular coding hurdle, so no meeting invite might have been sent out, rather that you continue a discussion that arose at your daily stand up . I still say that both types can conform to my meeting guidelines..
A meetings should be no longer than an hour, the reason for this is that people switch off and lose focus after that. The meeting should also focus on a particular issue so that it is easier to stay focused. Naturally there are cases when meetings needs to be longer but it should be an exception rather than the rule. One such exception might be a workshops (yes they are still meetings). In these exceptions you can still break it up in hourly portions with an agenda for all sections.
A meeting has two different type of actors, the Organiser and the Participants.
Usually requests the meeting and will send out the meeting invite to all relevant parties. He/She will run the meeting and keep it on track, makes sure that everybody’s voice is heard. Assigns a note-taker. The organiser should include all relevant information and documentation that is required for the discussion, preferably in the meeting invite. The organiser is also responsible for writing up the outcome and any actions
Are all relevant people needed to reach the goal of the meeting. It should include relevant stakeholders and decision makers.
All parties of a meeting:
§ Should always be relevant to the purpose of the meeting
§ Should always be on time
§ Should be prepared for the meeting
§ A meeting should always have a specific purpose
§ A meeting should have an agenda
§ A meeting should have a clear goal
§ A meeting should stay on topic
§ A meeting should always start on time
§ A meeting should have all required decision makers present
§ A meeting should be kept to a maximum of one hour
§ A meeting should always have a note taker
§ A meeting should be mobile and laptop free (only a presenter/note taker should use a laptop)
§ A meetings decisions and actions should be noted and sent out
As a meeting Organiser I hereby promise to whenever I require a meeting that I include all relevant parties and all relevant information (Agenda and Goals). I promise to be on time for the meeting (I will actually be there first and set up any equipment). When you attend one of my meetings I guarantee that everybodys voice will be heard. And that correct notes and actions will be sent to all attendees.
As a meeting Participant I here by promise that I will always arrive on time and have prepared by reading any prerequisite material. I also promise whilst in the meeting my phone/laptop/tablet will stay away from my hands or the table.
Summary and more
Upon entry put phones away, naturally if someone is expecting their firstborn child the mobile can be switched on but not on the table (and especially not in front of someones face). One way to do this is to have a charging shelf next to the door in your meeting rooms so that you place your phone (on silent) in a charging dock
Some reflections that I have come across:
Large organisations will always struggle to have good meetings because in large organisations dependencies on each other are greater. There will be lots of politics involved in viewpoints. Product companies or organisations who own the whole domain are more likely to have successful meetings (and in my view more likely to succeed in IT projects)
Download the manifesto
Feel free to use and share any part of the Meeting Manifesto