Meetings: Where Work Goes to Die

If they can’t start a meeting without you, well, that’s a meeting worth going to, isn’t it? And that’s the only kind of meeting you should ever concern yourselves with. (the movie: Swimming with Sharks)

I hate meetings as well but I don’t have another solution to replace them. Today I had the following meetings:

  • 1 hour with new product managers to explain how we do things in Engineering, the development teams we have, and how to work with us effectively
  • 1 hour with a customer advisory board to get feedback on how our product is or isn't serving their needs and to preview upcoming enhancements
  • 1 hour to review new feature plans from the product team and estimate their level of difficulty
  • 1 hour presentation from a third-party vendor whose functionality we may integrate with our product
  • 30 minutes to get a bunch of people from different parts of the company together who seem to be independently trying to solve the same problem, and make sure we're not wasting effort

Maybe we don’t have the kinds of meetings people complain about. None of the above were, as a practical matter, optional for me.

Wonderful Philosophy.

But it’s something I don’t think it will work.

I have to get requirements from who I’ll call “end clients.” Not being in a position of authority my choices become pull this information from THESE clients or not have a job.

The end clients do not have enough respect for what we’re trying to do (or apparently, us) to do their homework before hand.

Thus we are stuck in the meeting, for however long it takes, to get all the information we need. It may take a couple hours. It may take more than one multi-hour meeting. On one project, it took three 2-hour meetings – just to grab the initial requirement descriptions. But we can’t do our project without the information, the clients are unable or unwilling to provide the information when we ask for it unless we are there interviewing them. Even at the meeting, if there is more than one representative (and sometimes that is inescapable) they will argue about the requirements. We have to guide them through the conceptualization of the project.

Yes, it sucks, but yeah, nothing I can do. I believe wholeheartedly that your principals are good and ideal. But they’re ideal in an almost Platonic sense. Unless EVERYONE signs on to the principles and adopts the appropriate work habits, they are unachievable ideals.

@AskDrSe you are right in that it is easier to have good meeting practices for internal teams than it is for people over whom you have no direct influence. This is where great account managers and project managers shine. The really good ones can work magic w.r.t. requirements gathering. And yeah, sometimes it bites.

As a humorous aside, anyone familiar with Frank Herbert’s Dune sequel Messiah might remember this commentary on meetings:

"The convoluted wording of legalisms grew up around the necessity to hide from ourselves the violence we intend toward each other. Between depriving a man of one hour from his life and depriving him of his life there exists only a difference of degree. You have done violence to him, consumed his energy. Elaborate euphemisms may conceal your intent to kill, but behind any use of power over another the ultimate assumption remains: 'I feed on your energy.'"
    -Addenda to Orders in Council
     The Emperor Paul Muad'dib

It is amazing how much can be accomplished in 25-minutes with a good agenda, a stop-watch and someone to smash tangents. Your 5th point is really critical. Nice post.

I love getting dragged into my clients meetings, especially the long ones with no purpose

…But only because I’m a contractor and get paid by the hour.

I had a hour-long meeting that overran by over half an hour. Seemed like a failure to me until I checked the action items, and realised we’d covered everything we needed to, and that everyone was now aware of flaws and broken sections that they previously hadn’t been.

The true curse is the “Regularly Scheduled” “Team” meeting. It’s a way of updating the managers and provides NOTHING for anyone not involved in the project.

Never has a blog post resonated more with me. I very rarely attend meetings these days - if I ever go in to a meeting room, it’s for 5 minutes to sort out an issue that I don’t want to discuss in a public forum.

Saying that, I’m a ruthless contractor, with very little patience for politics, and I put very little stock in the likes of project management and middle management. Middle management should only get involved if someone isn’t pulling their weight, or consistently take a long time to achieve goals or complete work.

It’s very rare that anyone will gain anything from the meetings that are held at many of my client’s offices. I usually politely decline, and provide a concise update via email or verbally.

What makes me laugh more than anything is seeing a middle manager who spends their entire life in meetings, who achieves very little except maybe make themselves feel “in the loop”… when in fact, the information gained is relatively useless to them. Honestly… I see people in meeting after meeting, who still can’t answer questions presented to them relating to the supposed subject matter discussed.

Hi Jeff,

You haven’t gone back to 9 till 5 world, have you?

Mike ;0)


I found our weekly team (IT) meetings essential. We use this time to split up tasks for the week and discuss details of longer term issues. We have very few meetings otherwise. Also our team is split over two buildings and a telecommuter, so once a week we get to actually talk through issues rather than relying to heavily on our already overfull email systems.

On the other hand our once a month company wide meetings take no less than 2 hours, and mainly serve to spread information such as new hires and job changes (after the full office tour and the series of emails related to new hires and job changes), announce board meetings and agendas and remind us of the company mission statement and associated company “commitments”. Then there is usually some long winded diatribe status update. Last week we got a treat though. At our annual retreat (like an all company meeting but 2 days long) we realized that we didn’t know what every other person in the company did. Never mind that you know who does the things that relate to your own work… Anyways, we all wrote down the “3” things our job consists of, then we presented them to the group. There are over 50 in our organization and in an 1hr 45min we made it through 10, before they cut us off and decided the we would pick up where we left off at the next meeting. I was one of those 10 and let everyone know what I did in less than 1 min.

"At GitHub we don’t have meetings. We don’t have set work hours or even work days. We don’t keep track of vacation or sick days. We don’t have managers or an org chart. We don’t have a dress code. We don’t have expense account audits or an HR department."
GitHub is not based here in Italy, I suppose…

One other point I’m surprised you missed:

Meetings should not recur. As if a meeting wasn’t costly enough, some folks think it’s efficient to incur that same cost every week (or every day!) whether you need the meeting or not.

Stories seem obligatory in this thread. So: I successfully campaigned last year to be the guy who didn’t go to recurring meetings. If it wasn’t worth your time to invite me to each meeting individually, how was it worth my time to attend each meeting individually?

Of course, the campaign involved days’ worth of talking to various folks – covering every possible aspect of the meeting’s alleged mission in detail, until everyone finally agreed they’d survive without me or invite me to individual meetings. But, the time cost of that campaign was worth it, right?

Then, a few months later, someone else took over the meeting, gave it a new name, and that invalidated my exemption.

Meetings are quite a beast.

At lest in the US you do not need a work permit to attend business meetings, you do for real work. What does this tell you?

You are right on almost 90% time regarding meetings but that 10% is crucial. if you really need to discuss or make some decision keeping all in same page, meeting can help you.


Yes, meetings are the amplifying component of the small mind.

Payed donut break.

The cure for the common meeting —

Good article with great points. However…

“For C#, on the other hand, it has worked really well to formalize: every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 1:00 to 3:00, we have a regularly scheduled meeting. We have a living agenda. Issues bubble to the top, and we knock them off. We have a wiki now on the internal web with the issues list, resolutions for them, and so on.” - Anders Hejlsberg -

Have a clear purpose, come prepared, and end the meeting as soon as possible by summarizing action items, but don’t force a productive meeting to stop just because 60 minutes have past.

Well put, Jeff.

For anyone interested, Merlin Mann gave a great talk at Twitter HQ about this very subject.
Check it out at