Let's talk about meetings

  • My opening thread has disappeared!. I'm going to have write it all over again.

  • What does ML think of meetings? There is a good Oliver Burkeman post here:

    The article is slightly frivolous. I don't think meetings are bad per se, rather there are good meetings and bad meetings, and bad meetings tend to be far more common. I've recently got into agile software development, and in particular scrum. If you're not familiar with this philosophy, the basic principles are listed here http://agilemanifesto.org. One of the key principles of scrum is to hold a daily, 15 minute stand-up meeting with all team members, called "the daily scrum" or "daily stand-up". On the one hand, you could say "Woah there! We're expected to have a meeting every freaking day?". On the hand, it addresses the key weakness of most meetings by keeping it very short, having a fixed agenda, and making everyone stand up to keep the meeting focussed.

    When I'm doing project work or software development, I prefer lots of short, regular meetings with users and team members to irregular, long meetings. I prefer 15 minutes every day to 75 minutes once a week, or 4 hours once a month. And whilst face-to-face collaborating is essential, I prefer it to compliment rather than replace electronic collaboration tools (like e-mail, Sharepoint etc etc), as writing stuff down often beats just talking.

    Unfortunately, the top brass at my company absolutely love meetings. I've never been in a meeting with my bosses that last less than an hour, and they often last longer than 3 hours. Often with no agenda, no goals, no chairman and no minutes. What a drag. We also have meetings with more than ten people, which is way too much to achieve anything. I also get annoyed that there is always at least one person who turns up late, so you spend the first few minutes hanging around waiting for the meeting to start. If the meeting is supposed to start at 10 then I want it to start at 10, not 10.15. Then you wait whilst people get coffee from the machine and chat about last night's football game.

    So, meetings....love 'em or hate 'em? And any tips for making them better?

  • I used to work a job where we had only four or five meetings a year, now I work one with generally one a two a day. Both have their benefits and weaknesses and a lot of it comes down to how the company operates.

    Meetings really have value when you have a lot of need to communicate with others, not every job does. I worked at a Fortune 10 Wall St. firm for eight years and meetings were unheard of. The degree of efficiency that we had was crazy. Your time was completely flexible, your work location was flexible and the ability to get work completed was unprecedented. You were free to work however and wherever you needed. The amount of work that each person could complete was amazing. No one had to check their calendar all day to schedule everything that they did. You could eat when you weren't busy, you could commute when you needed - not plan all work and other activities around meeting pivot points. And we were always available to the businesses that we supported. None of this "I'm in a meeting, you have to wait an hour until I'm done." We had more time in the day to do work, fewer interruptions means it was easier to effectively engage in that work and the work that we were doing was effectively independent so this was perfect.

    If you need to coordinate or plan with others, you probably need meetings. But in lots of cases you do not. IMHO, you should only have a meeting that you need, never have them unless you can seriously justify the time and interruptions that it causes.

  • One thing about meetings, and life in general, is that if you say something enough times then it eventually becomes a fact. So I repeat myself over and over again, which may initially appear a waste of time, but eventually it serves to convince my bosses that I am, in fact, correct. So in the first meeting, you might claim that everyone in the company should start wearing green ties, because you believe green ties increases productivity. Initially, no-one will be convinced. But if you say it in the next meeting, and the meeting after that, and the meeting after that, eventually the CEO will announce that everyone has to start wearing green ties because it is a well known fact that green ties increases productivity.

    So I use meetings to groom my bosses in the ways of Carnival Boy. <evil laugh> <strokes cat>

  • I would have to say meetings can be good or bad depending on who is in charge and if they actually want something to come from the meeting. Meetings with clients about projects or potential products always seem to end up the same way. A total waste of time, nothing gets decided and I usually get the privilege to sit through 2-3 more meeting in the year going over the same stuff. I feel there needs to be better documentation on my side and perhaps color pictures on their side. I know tech can be overwhelming, but for M&P small businesses it can be a challenge. Perhaps because I am break/fix for these clients, that could be part of the problem.

    The meetings usually start from a pain point that either they or I find. The next meetings are to talk about the same problem again. The solutions and prices are usually the same and no go ahead is ever discussed and then we have another meeting. If I am lucky to actually get a meeting about Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery planning, its just not sexy enough for them to take seriously. In fact it would be better to just talk some more about the other issues that they aren't spending money on. And of course I don't charge for the meetings, perhaps I should. I should probably be charging for research too.

  • Some meetings have purpose. They're still quite necessary when dealing with external parties. Internally, if you're having regular meetings on something, something's wrong with your processes. The processes you use should have communications and information steps built-in. Order got held up? Send an email to the logistics group. I've been in multiple manufacturing organizations where production/logistics would sit down every morning for their daily powwow. They'd always be rehashing the same things - order 123's still awaiting raw materials, work center 8 is down, etc. If they instead communicated this via a job status board/spreadsheet/application/slate and chisel, the info would be available to those that need it when they need it.

    Case study:
    In a manufacturing environment, customer jobs would get handed off between departments as needed. There was no cross-visibility between departments, so the key players from the departments would have a morning meeting to ask questions on orders. The other folks in the room would take notes in their notebooks, then go their own ways afterwards. This meeting would consume nearly 2 hours a day, and there was likely some job or question that was overlooked. The ball would get dropped on jobs, material purchases weren't made in a timely fashion because logistics didn't know the order was coming, etc. It was a mess.

    Later on, Purchasing worked with IT to develop a job material purchase tracking system spreadsheet. They'd have visibility on each job and easily be able to keep material purchase info updated. Eventually, Scheduling was working with Purchasing on an issue, and liked the material spreadsheet. Soon after, Purchasing brought a laptop to the daily meeting, and just updated the spreadsheet with the meeting's notes. After a couple months, the spreadsheet was added to in order to include Scheduling's info, as well as Order Entry, Tooling, etc. People started entering their own data into the spreadsheet. A projector was set up in the conference room, and updates were added real-time as the meeting went on. After a few months (when all the open orders had been entered and kept in the spreadsheet), the meeting wasn't really needed anymore. Everyone had timely information at their fingertips and didn't need to sit around a table to discuss it. Notes and discussions happened within the spreadsheet, and everyone was on the same page.

    With that in mind, if you see recurring meetings happening, try to figure out what's wrong with the process that's creating the need for these meetings.

    Meeting prevention's also important. Set your environment up to be conducive to one-off discussions. Have whiteboards in open areas so that folks can just walk up and discuss a concept. They can hash out ideas on the marker board and move on. Bam! Meeting prevented. A newer, yet growing concept, for internal-use conference rooms, get rid of the chairs and put a projector and marker boards in. It changes the dynamic of the room from sitting around talking to being active and doing. Meetings will be shorter, less prone to attention drift, and more collaborative instead of one-sided.

    After reading this, I think I might be in the wrong line of work. Maybe I should pick up an MBA and go into business consulting?

  • @alexntg said:

    Internally, if you're having regular meetings on something, something's wrong with your processes.

    Good point. I was watching a program about Amazon last week. Sometimes, Jeff Bezos would get a customer complaint about something, and he'd forward the e-mail to one of his staff and simply add "?" to it.

    "?" didn't just mean sort out this one customer, it mean't fix the processes so that this type of complaint could never occur again. The staff member would have to refine Amazon's processes, then e-mail Bezos back telling him what they'd changed.

    If Bezos was happy with the reply, he'd simply e-mail ":)" to let them know.

    ? and 🙂 I just love that minimalism. Compare that with some bosses who talk and talk for hours in meetings. Too often in meetings we discuss the symptoms of an issue, and not the causes.

    And I'm a big believer in stand-up meetings. I'd also like to have walking meetings. Steve Jobs used to conduct many of his meetings walking around the block. There's a park next to our office and I'd love to go for a 30 minute power walk with a colleague whilst discussing a particular issue. Unfortunately, leaving the building is likely to be frowned on or colleagues would just think I'm a nutter. I sometimes arrange to have meetings in a bar, with predictably limited success.

  • When I worked at Wal-Mart, we had meetings that all employees could attend 3 times a day. They were mostly done by management to keep everyone informed on what was going on mostly at their store, and when necessary, with the company. They weren't very long, predictable (sales figures were always discussed, and plans were discussed for each week/month currently on). Then everyone had a chance to ask questions, openly voice opinions (which were always great). But two things I will always remember about them:

    1) They were short, concise and informative.

    **2) The chant. Yes, we had a chant. **

    "Gimme a W! Gimme an A! Gimme a L! Gimme a squiggly! Gimme a M! Gimme another A! Gimme a R! Gimme a T! What's that Spell? WAL-MART! WHO'S #1? THE CUSTOMER! WHAT STORE's #1? THIRTY-TWO-O-SIX WE STRIVE FOR EXCELLENCE WOOT!"

    .......I still remember that 10 years later.

    At my last job, however, meetings would drone on and on and on. Some meetings would never come up with solutions and were a waste. Then we introduced alcohol and bowling with pizza, and like magic they became more productive 🙂

    At my current job. We have impromptu webex meetings with HQ from time to time. Other times the 4 of us head out to the local pub for afternoon lunch. Those only happen a couple of times a year.

  • I've got to meet with a Board of Directors, Partners, and Money for one of my clients. I dont mind those sorts of meetings. Proposing/Explaining/Closing sweet deals.

  • @Hubtech said:

    I've got to meet with a Board of Directors, Partners, and Money for one of my clients. I dont mind those sorts of meetings. Proposing/Explaining/Closing sweet deals.

    That's an external meeting. Those are often difficult to do without.

  • @alexntg being a one man shop right now...if i had internal meetings, my wife would worry about me. "who are you talking to in there? " "oh, i'm having a self meeting" ......gets walked away in straight jacket.

  • Walking meetings: Anyone have these? I.e. instead of having a meeting in your office, you go outside and walk and talk.

    Article on it here http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jun/02/walking-meetings-work

    In the West Wing they did this all the time: "Walk with me, Josh". I don't imagine the White House is actually like that though.

    I know Steve Jobs used to do it all the time as well.

    I really like the concept, though I can see it would only work well with two people meetings, any more and it could be difficult to hear everyone. I also fear it would result in less focussed meetings - you know the ones where you put the world to rights but don't actually make any decisions or plan any real actions? Taking notes would be next to impossible.

    I love walking anyway, so this would be great for me. But I don't have the courage to suggest it to any of my colleagues as I think they'd think I was weird. Plus, I'm no Steve Jobs.

    Anyone do this already? I suspect they sound great in principle but are useless in reality.

  • @Carnival-Boy I think even with more than two it would be less distracting than a standard meeting. I find the standard "come to my office meeting" to be very distracting, plus ineffective. Usually, the meeting holder is still taking calls and reading emails while trying to run the meeting.

    Have learned from the past that meetings need to be documented and sent to all parties involved, to prevent another meeting to cover what was and wasn't explained or talked about at the first meeting.

  • Now that standing desks are common, I've noticed stand up meetings not being so short anymore.

Log in to reply