This post originally appeared in Pluralsight’s blog in http://blog.pluralsight.com/tips-for-meetings I am including it here as future reference of all my writings
Meetings can be wildly useful for things like brainstorming and communicating within — and between — teams. They can also be great for sparking collaboration and moving projects forward. But when they get misused or abused, which happens all too often, they end up being little more than a gigantic waste of time. Let’s look at the top five things that tend to go wrong in meetings, and how you can fix them.
1. Busyness vs. Productivity. For some people, the mere act of sitting in a meeting is considered work. This becomes an issue when those in attendance use the time to appear busy, rather than actively, and constructively, contributing. Meetings that go over in this manner tend to end with scheduling another meeting just to “continue the discussion.” This is all too common among project managers or product managers.
The fix: Make sure every meeting you attend or lead has a real and very clear objective. Moreover, make sure that this meeting is actually necessary. If the objective is not important or required, then simply defer the meeting until the right time.
2. The time trap: Have you ever been in a one hour meeting with 15 other folks and quietly agonized over your workload, rather than actively listening and waiting for your two minute turn to talk? And what about the guy next to you who seems to be thinking the same thing, while he plays Candy Crush or answers emails? An hour long meeting with this many people is actually two days of work lost forever; gone in time. I shiver just to think of how many dollars are wasted because of overcrowded meetings.
The fix: Not everyone needs to be invited to every meeting. Make sure each person has a clear understanding of why they’re there. Reserve a friendly kick out of the room for anyone who doesn’t need to be around. Also, as the old adage says, “divide and conquer.” A very broad topic where too many people are involved can be broken down into smaller chunks with smaller groups. You only need one person to coordinate among teams, and one is always much better than a committee. This is very common with Scrums that get abused and end up looking more like office parties.
3. No direction: Another reason why some meetings take much longer than expected is that there isn’t a clear agenda or objective. This leads to endless talking, tangents and scheduling new meetings to continue the conversation. People also confuse a meeting agenda with the subject of the meeting. For example, “Discussion on data” makes a fine subject line, but it’s far too vague to serve as the agenda. This scenario also comes into play when the overall vision for the project is not made clear or has many unknown factors.
The fix: Create a clear agenda with well-defined points and, if possible, use my favorite feature of Scrum: timebox. Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” and this applies just as well to meetings. If you don’t have a limit, people will use as much time as possible for a discussion. Timebox will help you maintain control over this. And, if the issue is overall project vision, try planning shorter term until there is a clearer view of the road ahead.
4. Too many interruptions: If you’re into self-improvement, you may be familiar with the concept of “flow.” In a nutshell, flow is when you’re totally immersed in the task at hand; when you’re your most productive. Developers usually experience this when time suddenly flies by.
Something else you should be familiar with that is the “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.” If you’re a maker (in this case, let’s use programmer), you likely work in large chunks of time, say from 8 a.m. through noon. During that time you focus on solving a problem, but if you’re interrupted, it may take up to 15 minutes to pick up where you left off. This means that if there are multiple meetings throughout the day, your maker’s schedule gets broken down into many small chunks that do not allow for full, focused involvement in a task.
The fix: Managers usually have smaller chunks of work that can be broken down into one hour slots, hence their impulse to “book meetings with the team to catch up.” They may have the best intentions, but this usually has a negative impact. Even worse, managers are higher in the food chain, which makes it difficult to cancel a meeting with your boss based on the fact that he was interrupting you.
If you’re a manager, try to understand the impact that you have on your whole team with these interruptions. Aim to schedule meetings when you know they’ll have the least impact on workflow – this can be near the start, middle or end of the day. If you’re a programmer, or a “maker,” find a way to approach your manager and see if he can work out a better method for scheduling these meetings. It can also be helpful to use email, chat or a tool like Jira to manage your team’s progress.
5. Too much talk, not enough action: This is a tricky one, as it requires a leader who is aware of the capabilities and responsibilities of his entire team (or at least those who will be in attendance). Thanks to extreme differences in personalities, this can be tricky. Typically you end up with some people who talk too much and others who remain totally silent. Unfortunately, talking does not always equate to doing. Someone might talk a lot and do very little, while the guy doing the work just sits and listens. This creates an unbalanced and biased view, as not all of the involved parties will communicate appropriately and the outcome of the meeting might not be the best.
The fix: It is the meeting organizer’s responsibility to understand the involvement of each person invited to the meeting in respect to the meeting agenda. Then ask questions, specifically on each one of the topics, to get the correct information and help obtain the best possible outcome for everyone involved.
To quickly recap, meetings can be the best way to help your team move forward. Just remember to schedule them only when absolutely required, instead of as a way to keep busy; invite only those who really need to be there; have a clear agenda and objective; don’t interrupt the maker’s schedule; and guide the meeting in such a way that everyone is heard.