One of my former team members, frustrated after spending an entire work day in time-wasting meetings, asked if my next startup blog could address the issue of meetings, so here goes.
First, just to remind everyone, a good meeting, if such a thing exists, has the following characteristics:
- There is a clear agenda, stated in the invitation.
- There is a fixed end time.
- All who attend know why they are there and are prepared to do their parts.
- The organizer or his/her designee must manage the meeting.
In my experience, in the better meetings, the organizer:
- Makes sure a meeting is necessary before calling one (Most important!).
- Takes the time to envision how the meeting will be run, creating an associated agenda.
- Identifies the participants and EXACTLY what is expected of each. This should be communicated to everyone attending.
- Manages discussion and prevents people from getting into rat holes by limiting time and identifying topics which need follow up outside this particular meeting.
- Assigns action items and follow ups with deadlines for each participant.
Very often, rather than holding a formal meeting, a manager can identify the two or three people who need to resolve an issue and suggest that they get together to do so. A surprising number of issues can be resolved between team members - one-on-one - if the manager follows up to ensure the issue is being worked on, setting a deadline for a solution or at least a proposal for a solution.
Whenever possible, team members should collaborate instead of attending formal meetings.
When group or company issues need to be presented, managers need to decide the best way to communicate them. Often an email or video will do the job if the issues aren't too sensitive.
If a personal touch is required, managers could meet one-on-one or discuss news with the team by walking around. In other words, put more management time into dissemination of information and demand less consumption of valuable productive time scheduling formal meetings.
In today's 24x7 connected world with flexible schedules, we and our team members may believe that email communication is sufficient. However, all too often people lose sight of what others are doing. If they're working hard, they many not realize that others are as well. If they have problems, they may not seek help from others who may be able to provide a different perspective. Often, just explaining the problem to someone else, will lead you to the solution.
People still need to work with each other in person. In other words, they need face-to-face meetings. I don't want to call them meetings because in reality the best ideas arise with informal in-person discussions across cubicle walls or on whiteboards (whiteboards should be on every cubicle wall and if possible on every other wall) - not formal meetings. Still, I believe that there should be some required in-office days and/or overlapped working schedules to facilitate this personal interaction.
So when should meetings be held? As rarely as possible.
One theme I've tried to emphasize in these posts: As managers, it's our job to find the best people, set and communicate the direction, and wherever possible, stay the hell out of the way so they can be productive. Too often, meetings don't encourage productivity.
Lastly, as much as I push back against most meetings, I do believe that each manager should hold a weekly team meeting, ideally with everyone present and food on the table (literally). In the worst case team members can teleconference or videoconference in. Again, the agenda is important. In my weekly team meetings, we do a person-by-person status report - each person describes what they're working on and how it's going. These meetings have demonstrated the following benefits:
- Each person sees what the others are doing.
- If someone has encountered a problem, often another team member can offer insight.
- If someone is overloaded, others who aren't as buried can offer help.