This is the best I learned avoiding meetings last year.
When avoiding meetings to actually get the job done, one tends to end up being an antisocial friendless idiot (that’s the legendary Rory Sutherland’s term).
Great meeting guys. Hey, who’s going to do the work?
Going through different teams and clients in the past, I found out that most of the people love to meet and talk a lot about the job. But who is actually doing the work? I’ve been hating meetings. Not just some. All of them.
It’s been a while since Paul Graham, co-founder of Y-Combinator, published his essay Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule on his web (an old-time web with a lot of powerful ideas). After reading it, I have rephrased my long lasting view hating meetings.
Some people know how to create stuff. Hours-long uninterrupted focus window is one of the most powerful maker’s tool.
Some people know how to organize stuff. Communication is one of the most valuable manager’s working tool.
Both makers and managers usually work great on their own. The meeting thing breaks them up. Paul Graham explains why.
By default, managers change what they’re doing every hour. Maker’s mindset plans hours, or days.
Finding an open slot in the manager’s schedule is only a change of the subject. Makers change the entire mode in which they work. In the maker’s schedule, a meeting will break the day into small pieces, each too small to do anything focused on.
Nice. I’ m a maker, I need to focus. I want into the flow. Get outta my way!
Bad news for makers.
Meetings are not evil, and we can’t avoid them forever.
As people in Google, the best company to work for put it — quite the opposite. Kristen Gil the VP for Business Operations & Strategy explained major changes in the company a few years ago:
“A well-run meeting is a great thing; it empowers people to make decisions, solve problems, and share information.”
Start-ups are small to allow quick changes. With growing companies, the importance of communication inside them tops the actual needs.
Ben Horowitz, a co-founder, and partner of Andreessen Horowitz, in his book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things,” says that:
“[T]he hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. “
As he puts it further on the blog: “Perhaps the CEO’s most important operational responsibility is designing and implementing the communication architecture for her company. The architecture might include the organizational design, meetings, processes, email, yammer and even one-on-one meetings with managers and employees.”
Exactly, that’s it! I’m a manager, get yourself in that meeting room, now!
Bad news for managers.
Most of the meetings are a huge waste of time. Period.
“Do you think Mozart could have composed The Marriage of Figaro in between stand-ups and one-on-ones?”
There are dozens of strategies how should that well-run meeting look like. You have 20 million search results on how to make better meetings. Yet, it still doesn’t help with lost focus and time for people to think & work.
Despite your good intentions to hold the best team meeting ever, you’ll always get a hole in your plan. You’ll lose the most talented people through that hole.
Another popular quote comes from Peter Drucker, the man who invented management (I mean, he is the one we all should go to for advice, right?):
“Doing the right thing is more important than doing the thing right.”
It’s him who reminds me: don’t try to do efficiently something that which should not be done at all. Don’t think how to make meetings more efficient. Ask first, why to do them at all?
I have this amazing idea: Be smart with meetings. Bam! No rocket science.
Think in first principles, not by analogy. And if you don’t like Elon Musk’s approach, here’s another one. Don’t put processes over the people. Don’t let fancy-sound techniques win over the job getting done.
So, why do you need that meeting?
1. To get status report and share information
You don’t need to do it. Status meetings or stand-ups should be obsolete by now. Both in person and remote ones pull people out of their focus to hear something they will read later.
Corporate trainer Paul Axtell put together the short list of “6 Biggest Myths About Meetings Today”:
“Meetings are about moving the organization forward. They are about making decisions, reaching alignment and orchestrating action.”
Instead of real time-status meetings make it asynchronous. You have many options. Maybe these will add up more to your experience.
People at Basecamp use their tool to post status online with Automatic Check-ins feature. Everyone in the team can see it whenever they’re ready. It’s one of the best tools out there to help keep focus window for everybody.
Asana has been great and simple task management app. Digging deeper today, you’ll find out how to handle big projects as well. It tracks project progress, status updates, and comments to them as well.
Trello. You can use it for near anything. It’s one of the best and easy-to-use tools to give and get a status report. Moving cards between project phases provide visual on anything you put on the list.
Write an email to share information across the team. Sum up important issues, address questions all people face. Email is not dead. It’s the best asynchronous communication tool out there.
2. To check with team and reinforce social bonds
Don’t do it. The idea of imposing meeting into other people’s schedule to “get to hear what’s been happening around” — is not OK.
In his recent article Justin Watt says, that meeting as a key to creating social bonds at work is a myth:
“Meetings aren’t key to creating strong social bonds between co-workers, that’s merely a byproduct of being in the same room together.”
Don’t push best performers to play truth or dare in the board room when the only thing on their mind is the broken code.
It is more worthwhile to invest time in other social situations. Go for a coffee, have a team lunch, or make time for the after-work drink.
Team bonding activities open plenty of opportunities for your creativity. Have a celebration day before holidays. Make a visit to the local festival. Organize an outdoor adventure.
Though, be careful with them. Don’t push the corporate agenda. Let people relax together out of workplace boundaries.
3. To give and get impromptu feedback
If you walk the open door management talk, that’s good! Top performing teams keep open communication culture. But think of maker’s and manager’s schedule again. Makers finally got in the flow. Is it necessary to attack with surprise feedback sessions?
Don’t do that.
If the last-minute Q&A meeting is a must, set up and respect do-not-disturb rules. It’s all common sense: wearing earphones on, have a big sign noting unavailability, or putting a red hat on. They will let others know when it’s not a good time to chat.
Years ago Paul Graham suggested, that using the analogy with office hours is a way to go:
“Several times a week I set aside a chunk of time to meet founders we’ve funded. These chunks of time are at the end of my working day[.]”
It’s a simple hack:
- Set-aside good time to meet each day, week, or month.
- Create short time blocks (10 to 30 minutes).
- Set-up a system for others to schedule appointments with you.
4. To come up with new ideas
You don’t have to meet to brainstorm new ideas. And, probably, you even shouldn’t.
We used to come up with best ideas on the brainstorming sessions. Today people and science will tell you reasons, why that has never been true.
Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” brings up solo thinking:
“Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.”
As she puts it further:
“If you look at how Mr. Wozniak got the work done — the sheer hard work of creating something from nothing — he did it alone. Late at night, all by himself.”
You either learn to make creative sessions better. Or rethink the process for the people to come up with ideas. Two examples worth the try:
- Design partner at Google Ventures Jake Knapp explained how to let group be heard, but not lose focus, energy and time. The simple rule called Note and vote gives quiet time to think. People write ideas in secret on the paper, then put 2 of them on the board and vote for the one in the pool.
- How about using the silent ideation and share it through an online board with Trello, Basecamp, Asana or any other asynchronous collaboration tool?
5. To coach and make one-on-ones
Do this. Do one-on-one meetings instead of team sessions. Do them instead of status reports. One-on-ones are the best manager’s investments in his people.
Not a tool will replace them.
But first, let’s make this clear. One-on-ones are not to be a manager’s tool to hassle employees. I will put it via Ben Horowitz again.
“[One-on-one] is the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email and other less personal and intimate mechanisms.”
They provide a unique way for makers to talk with their managers. On top of that, it is the employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting.
The one-on-one meeting is definitely a way to go, but don’t overdo it. Reconsider their added value and frequency. Read this article by Jason Evanish, CEO of GetLighthouse.com.
While many leaders like Andy Grove of Intel, Ben Horowitz of A16Z, and Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman swear by one on one…getlighthouse.com
6. To make a decision
When you are about to make a major decision and need a meeting, go for it.
Here, again, Gil Kirsten Operations VP at Google, says that:
“[D]ecisions should never wait for a meeting. If it’s critical that a meeting take place before a decision is made, then that meeting needs to happen right away.”
In Google, no decision-oriented meeting should happen without clear decision-maker being set up.
You can bolster different opinions in team sessions. But at the end, there has to be one person to take action and lead team to get things done.