I have a hard time with meetings. It would not surprise me if most people have a problem with meetings. I have a “Broken Windows” theory about meetings. Once one person, or a few people, demonstrate that they do not value the meeting we are all in together; more people follow suit and stop valuing the meeting as well. (Note: I find the “Broken Windows” social theory about communities to be nonsense.)
Engineering teams have a unique problem regarding meetings. Engineers are makers, we are chefs, we like to create. This manifests in two ways; either they want to run the meeting their way, or they don’t value meetings because it is not creation. In each organization you have to find a way to have valuable meetings. The only thing worse than having bad meetings is not having any meetings — and all the repercussions and bad work that result.
In my opinion there are several ways to demonstrate that you value a meeting. These are not the only ways to demonstrate it, but these are my ways.
- Have an agenda. When requesting the meeting tell everyone why they are coming. What you plan to cover. And what you want the result of the meeting to be; whether that is a document, a thumbs up/down decision, or simply sharing status. Without knowing the goal of a meeting no one will know if the meeting was successful. It is hard to value something when you’re never quite sure if it worked or not.
- Come prepared. When you know what the meeting is about, get prepared to discuss the topic. Do your homework and take notes. Understand all the decisions and work that has led up to this meeting. This is about respecting other people’s time, and their preparation. One unprepared person means spending the first ten minutes, or more, of the meeting re-litigating what everyone else has done on their own. Without preparation do you expect to help the team achieve the goal? It also means being able to accomplish the goal of the meeting within the time allotted, rather than running over.
- Belong there. Know when you don’t belong in a meeting, and remove yourself from meetings you don’t belong in. When you’re calling a meeting look at your invite list and make sure everyone actually needs to be there. Meetings aren’t like dinner parties, we shouldn’t be worried about offending those who are not invited. The meeting exists to achieve the goal on the agenda.
- Kill meetings. While meetings are an absolute necessity it is not where engineers complete their work. A meeting whose purpose, whose agenda and goal is no longer pertinent, needs to be killed. Killing meetings shows that you value good meetings.
Bad meetings are like a cancer. Bad participants are like a cancer too. Eventually they ruin good meetings by poisoning people to stop valuing meetings. I have to try very hard in these situations to be productive, and it doesn’t always work.
You’ll notice I said nothing about laptops here. I think they are often a red-herring; a symptom not a cause. The cause is that people are not valuing meetings, so they’ll start fiddling on their laptop. By removing the laptop you haven’t solved the problem. They still don’t care about the meeting. Laptops are just a tool, sometimes you need one. I think you’ll notice that people who value meetings aren’t fiddling on their laptops.
Do you share these values about meetings? Do you have additional things you would add? Would you remove anything?