People tend to be social. It’s nice to start the day with some chit-chat at the coffee corner. These kind of meetings are informal. Sometimes, very good ideas pop up there. More often ideas and well thought solutions should be derived from official meetings. In large companies, there are a lot of meetings which help connect departments and to discuss things. Bad meetings are also very common. Think of it yourself: how many times have you heard someone saying “let’s discuss this”. And the next step was to block another time-slot in your agenda. Let’s discuss this – killer meetings.
The last couple of years I spoke to a lot of people. Different people on different occasions. From a lot of those easy going informal chats I can derive a pattern. Most of them were facing push-back about innovative ideas and frustration about the organizations they work for.
Having too many (bad) meetings was an argument I heard a lot of times. It’s no surprise to a lot of people. But it’s even worse: a lot of people actually contribute to it as well. Most of them are not aware of it (yet), so let’s not be so tough here. Read on with a smile 🙂
When do you consider a meeting as being bad? Just a few which I noticed. I consider a meeting as a bad meeting:
- When time is wasted since people are not prepared.
- The meetings do not have a proper agenda.
- No one writes down notes.
- When people are not so interested and don’t pay attention.
- If people interrupt each other all the time.
- If there is a huge number of people in the meeting (no fixed figure but let’s say 6 is pretty much already).
- And the worst of all, every new topic starts with: “let’s discuss this”.
People which are used to attend a lot of meetings a day might not agree with me here, maybe it’s good to take into account a bunch of time-management tips. A lot of them can help you in your day to day work and also apply to effective meetings.
Let’s discuss this
The last topic of the previous list is by far the most annoying one. At least, to me 🙂 It’s killing every bit of inspiration, it’s killing every bit of creativity and enthusiasm. Especially the brain of developers. A lot of managers forget that developers are creative problem solvers. Their mind is constantly on the look out for solutions for their software-related issues. It’s like a constant refactoring is happening in their brain.
Therefore it’s important not to interrupt this process too much. 3 simple rules:
- Developers are no managers – they interact with a keyboard and a mouse. See what’s missing in this picture? 🙂
- Don’t break their thoughts on “discussing things” without a clear purpose.
- Don’t put so much overhead, the regular Scrum meetings are important but when poorly led they already pose so much overhead when doing sprints of 2 weeks.
Break the pattern
So how do you get out of this? It’s too easy to say let’s discuss this after each short conversation with a co-worker. Instead, try to avoid it. And when you do mention it, create a proper agenda which is not titled like “Discuss topic X” but instead: Find solution for topic X so problem Y is solved. See the difference? It’s not a dead-end – the goal is clear – it triggers people to come into action.
Try out this very first step to break the cycle. Meetings should have a clear outcome: action points should be written down and acted upon.
A similar pattern can be found at User Stories. I noticed a lot of User Stories in different companies which have titles like Discuss solution of random server crashes. What is the purpose? Everyone knows it implicitly, but having User Stories like this is not a good practice to really find a solution. Try to rename it to: “Find root cause of random server crashes and write a plan to avoid them in the future”. It’s much more specific. Just one sentence and it’s clear to non geeks and non tech guys as well.
Most business managers might know SMART business goals. Those goals are Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Realistic and Time-bound. For User Stories and meetings – it should be the same.
Another advantage of compelling titles for meetings and User Stories is to attract people to come into action – it’s an invite to fix problems not to annoy them and make them feel dull. Your organization can become more professional by just implementing these simple steps. One of the most difficult parts is to change the (default) behavior of everyone involved. It may be needed to constantly hammer on the new concepts since the “let’s discuss behavior” is rooted very deep. Keep on pushing people in the right direction – without being too rude 🙂
With these ideas I hope to have inspired you. This way you can recognize dull meetings and step up to improve or avoid them. If not – let’s discuss it offline. Off course I was joking here 🙂 Your feedback and opinion is welcome.