Meetings: Where Work Goes to Die

How many meetings did you have today? This week? This month?

Now ask yourself how many of those meetings were worthwhile, versus the work that you could have accomplished in that same time.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:
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Yes! Jeff is back!


“Who knows, maybe they use them to store all the extra forks.”

That’s funny!

While most meetings (especially “fluffy” ones) should be optional, what about smaller ones to synchronize the team on what’s going on? There’s the risk that someone who simply doesn’t like meetings will happily slog on until it by accident becomes clear that she’s working in the wrong direction or is hopelessly stuck?

Either as said in the article, there is a list of points that needs synchronisation for advancing in a project or ‘whats going on’ is the primary burden of direct management.
-In my view, the manager has to have one to one conversations to catch up with the progress, and if a point of interest arises, schedule a meeting!
-What i have seen (again and again) is that a meeting whose only goal is team ‘catch up’ is a one to one meeting with your manager, plus a public : the team.
Dont get me wrong there, when summing up topics this kind of meeting can trigger great insights from the public, but you take a big risk of wasting the time of N-2 attendants for a low chance of improvements.

What those ‘catch up’ meetings always succeeds in producing is a great report that should have been done anyway : thats not worth an hour for 10 persons.

And i’m not talking about out of scope disgressions that happens when no clear bullet point topics are defined.

Those principles are very similar to the rules defined in Agile-development, they just make sense.

I have been in environments where the corporate culture has stratified employees so strongly (strongly typed, har-har) by their titles that meetings were blessings…when they happened. If you work in a place where each “level” refuses to acknowledge anybody lower, even in passing by in the hall, then meetings are the only place a larger picture of your work effort can emerge.

I work in an organization where we have daily status reports, apart from weekly, monthly and quarterly status reports. And all these happens for all the applications we work on. On an average, we spend 2 hours a day in a meeting. When I tried saying no to such status meetings, I was told by upper management that there is a process so you should follow it. How can I ask them to stop acting like a sheep and be a bit of an human being?

Just the other day, there was a highly relevant tidbit on Freakonomics about the perverse incentives at play in meetings:

To summarize: in general, people judge the competence of others at meetings based on how much they talk, rather than the quality of what they say. The consequence is that people have a strong individual incentive to waste time on trivialties, which degrades the usefulness of the meeting. Additionally, groups tend to strongly favour the first thing which is suggested, without properly considering alternatives, which leads to a tendency towards poor decision making.

I have mixed feelings about meetings. I used to hate them with a passion, prefering to code instead. Over time, I came to understand that if you don’t have regular meetings the organization will fall apart. People still need to see one another to get a coherent picture of the organization and where it’s headed. At my girlfriends old workplace they had “monthly meetings” that happened about once every three or so months. The result was that the organization became dysfunctional because the only source of accurate information was the rumors in the hallways.

It probably is a question of discipline just as you say - but I would prefer a disorganized meeting that at least kept people informed instead of the alternative that no meeting was held and no-one has a clue on what to do.

You know, every single developer I’ve ever known has railed against meetings, how they’re a waste of time, etc. Then, the moment they find themselves in need of information from their team, they fall right back into the same patterns that they railed against.

It amazes me how astonished my developers are when I call a meeting that has an agenda, that sticks to the agenda, and usually ends early. It’s not that hard… really.

A friend of mine’s old boss had a statement:
"Make the meeting worth the money the customer is paying."
Take everyone in that meeting and (assuming the meeting is an hour) add up their hourly rate. That is how much this meeting cost the customer. Does the team get that much benefit from the meeting? If no, then you are doing the meeting wrong.

I’d add another: Never have a meeting to pass out information.

Wow, I got a meeting just like that in 10 minutes. Ohhh the irony…absolutely nothing gets done in these meetings!

Some people treat meetings like they’re a place to catch up on work that they didn’t get done because they had other meetings to go to. I think it’s disprespectful to the meeting organizer and makes a potential waste of time an ~actual~ waste of time.

My rules: You can’t leave a meeting unless you’ve made a decision, and it can’t be a decision to have another meeting.

Excellent post, Jeff. I will send it to my boss and peers, as every meeting we have brings pain to me. I am sure I am not alone.

I literally haven’t sat in a meeting room since 2005 or physically seen anyone from my company in a business capacity since 2005.

At our company we all telecommute. Ninety percent of stuff can be dealt with by agreement over email or work tickets.

The remaining 10% is handled by highly focused conference calls and Goto Meeting sessions which is at most around 90 minutes worth of business spread over a week.

I do sometimes miss the free tea and biscuits though.

At Lucid Meetings we (well, @EliseID8) have been writing a series of posts about meeting cost vs. meeting value. We care deeply about well run meetings that are valuable for people and organizations. I think you’ll find good information for sharing with bosses in there :slight_smile:

Nick Hodges has a great point. I’ve seen that abused at a lot of companies. “Wow, they somehow managed to squeeze 2 minutes of information into one hour!”