Eight years ago I wrote about how meetings are poisonous. At the time I was the senior developer on my team and I was getting pulled into 4-5 meetings a day. This killed my productivity and made it difficult to get any of my IC work done. I struggled for many months until I realized that I could just say no to meetings. Since then I’ve transitioned from developer to manager, manager to director and then back to manager. My feelings on meetings have changed over the years but the general advice from eight years ago still stays the same. If you’re interested in reading more about meetings Leigh Espy has a great book called “Bad Meetings Happe To Good People” which is worth a read.
The single most important thing you can do to make sure your meeting is successful is to have a purpose. People often set up meetings without having a good understanding of why they need the meeting in the first place. Pure status updates can be done more efficiently over email, slack or project management tools. Meetings where the tone is important or decisions need to be made are good candidates for a successful meeting.
Once you’ve figured out the purpose of the meeting the next most important step is having an agenda. Agendas inform participants whether they need to attend or not, help keep the meeting on track and are the starting point for keeping notes. They can be used to summarize the talking points and show the required outcomes from a meeting.
Parkinson’s Law is as true for writing code as it is for meetings. The meeting expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. If you schedule an hour the meeting will more likely take an hour, even if you only need 50 minutes or less. Google Calendar even has a setting to help you called Speedy Meetings.
Enabling this setting means your 30-minutes meetings will be by default 25-minutes long, 45-minutes meetings will be 40-minutes long, and 60-minutes meetings will be 50-minutes long. This also helps give people a small break between meetings to get a glass of water, use the restroom or catch-up on notifications.
Eight years ago when I first wrote about this most of my meetings were in person. Putting your laptop and phone away helped reduce distractions and kept meetings on track. Now that most of the world has gone remote and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future it’s all about minimizing distractions. Close everything except for the video call and wherever you take notes, put your laptop and phone into do not disturb and resist the temptation to open a browser window and fall down the rabbit hole that is the internet.
The person who calls the meeting should take charge or talk to someone beforehand that will lead it. The goal of this moderator is to make sure the meeting sticks to the agenda, allows the conversation to wander when productive but brings it back as soon as people get off track. Depending on the personalities in the meeting this can be a very difficult job. It can be a fine line between a productive conversation and one that’s completely out of control. Your job as a moderator is to also make sure everyone has a chance to talk. That means calling on the quiet ones and giving them a space to talk.
Meetings are one of the most costly parts of your business. Research shows that across the United States, meetings that are not even necessary waste over $25 million every single day, or about $37 billion every year. Smaller meetings not only reduce the cost of the meeting they also make it easier to stick to the agenda, make sure everyone has a say and make decisions. If you’re finding your meetings are starting to bloat try using the RACI framework to determine who needs to be there. RACI stands for:
- Who are the ones who will be Responsible for implementing decisions made (Developers, ICs)
- Who is Accountable for decisions made (Management generally)
- Who needs to be Consulted before decisions are made (Experts, Stakeholders)
- Who simply needs to be Informed of the outcome if it impacts them (everyone else)
Often only those Responsible and Accountable need to be in the meeting. They should consult with the experts and stakeholders beforehand and a summary with the meeting notes and decisions made should be sent out to those that need to be informed afterwards. This helps keep meetings to a manageable amount.
Every meeting should end with an action plan. This is a list of meeting notes, a list of the decisions made in the meeting and a list of action items with due dates and assignees. If a follow-up meeting is needed this should be done in the meeting as well. This list of action items should be clear and concise and people should walk away knowing what’s required of them and when it’s due.
There’s a lot that needs to go into making a meeting productive and valuable but if you spend a few minutes on each meeting everyone involved will benefit. What are your favourite tips for running good meetings?