Meetings Are Usually Awful, But Yours Won't Be Anymore
Meetings are a joke. Make yours avoid the punchline. Decide if you should have a meeting, should you attend one, and the rules to make yours effective.
As a side note, this article is significantly longer than my normal article. Close to 3x as long. I wanted to split the article into multiple posts, but I couldn't find a logical way to do it, without putting a goofy *to be continued* at the bottom. So I'm afraid I just left it long.
Meetings are the punchline of most office jokes.
"Tired of getting work done? Hate making decisions? Hold a meeting!"
"I survived another meeting which should have been an email."
Meetings can be useful.
Meetings can be a great way to collaborate with others.
Let's chat about how to avoid the punchline and make meetings worthwhile.
Should this meeting happen?
How about we start with the best time saver of all. Should you even have the meeting?
Could you accomplish the same thing in an email?
Example: "Review weekly metrics." - It is quite possible that you could send out the weekly metrics, and let people ask questions via email if they have questions. Perhaps ad-hoc schedule a meeting if the weekly metrics had an important activity.
If people are primarily consuming information, then email may work better. If you expect significant conversation, a meeting is fine.
Could you split the long meeting into multiple shorter meetings?
Example: Imagine you have 10 teams, and 4 major projects you'd like to discuss. You can either invite all 10 teams to a 1.5-hour project review, or you invite 3 teams to a 30-minute review, 4 teams to a 30-minute review, and so on. This isn't always the right answer, as it might be important for those teams to be involved in some way.
Does the meeting have a clear purpose?
By default, plenty of project and product managers feel like they need a regular weekly meeting. Not for a specific purpose, but because having meetings is a part of their job. I understand that ambiguous jobs can be tough, but I believe that every meeting needs to have a clear purpose. We should know if the meeting was successful or not, by determining if you accomplished the purpose.
Let's talk through a few specific types of meetings. Not all of them, because that feels like it would take too long.
The Deciding Meeting
This is the best type of meeting. We have relevant data. We discuss. The deciders decide things.
"Should we launch or should we hold?"
"Should we offer monthly pricing or annual only?"
"Should we begin offering a free trial?"
You know what the goal is for this type of meeting, and you know when it's done.
This often needs to be a meeting because there are discussions which need to take place. You're not looking for a simple agreement, you're looking for a thoughtful debate.
A sub-type of the deciding meeting is the "Sign-off" meeting. This is where you want to get someone(s) to agree on a plan of action you have.
"We plan to launch this Friday."
Since the subtext of the meeting is that the other party may disagree with your decision (and want to discuss it), this may require a deciding meeting.
The Problem-Solving Meeting
Difficult problems may require getting a small group of people in a room. It's usually impossible to discuss things with 25 people, so these meetings should have a short attendee list.
This requires a clearly stated problem, and what you believe the output should be.
"Reducing attrition brainstorming meeting - Review known reasons for employee attrition, available metrics, and create a list of action items."
The Communicate Information Meeting
There are at least two types of reasonable communicate information meetings.
Big social gathering
All-hands meetings are useful to create a feeling of connectivity, ensure that everyone has the same information, and preferably do a little team building. Hopefully these aren't held too often. Because oh boy, I usually find them boring. Useful (if done well), but boring.
Communicate with discussion
Sometimes information needs to be shared but also discussed.
Employee 1: "We are green for launching this Friday."
Employee 2: "Are you sure you're green? I saw there were 13 open bugs as of last night."
Employee 1: "We think we can close them all in time."
Employee 3: "But you found 12 of those bugs yesterday. What leads you to believe you won't find more bugs today? Or while you're re-testing those fixes?"
Sound familiar? It happens all the time. While awkward and annoying, I feel that sometimes a group discussion around information can lead to better outcomes.
All the other types of communicate information meetings
I think the majority of other meetings to communicate information are a waste of time. If the intention of the meeting is to verbally explain a written report, that should not be a meeting.
How can you tell the difference between a status discussion (good) meeting, and a status report (bad) meeting?
Everyone invited to the meeting should have things to say. If 90% of the attendees sit there quietly, it's likely a bad meeting.
If people say things about their status, and 90% of the time people don't reply, it's likely a bad meeting.
If there is a lively debate, and people feel stressed and anxious, it's likely a good meeting.
When communicating information, asynchronous is usually more effective. You should not have a meeting to force people to pay attention to the information. They'll read the information if they feel they need it.