“Tomorrow is hell’s Thursday,” sighed the developer I spoke to. He referred to that day every other week, where the team demonstrates what they have developed and also plan their next sprint. “Is that so wrong?” I thought toads myself and asked why he said this. “Hells Thursday is what we call that day, but only when the customer is not present. The whole day is spend with meetings. It feels like the customer is mainly interested in finding problems in what we have developed, and then the mood and motivation goes down. Then as we start planning, it’s either user stories that are not resolved, which means we sit around guessing how to solve them or on the other hand, our Product Owner has almost encoded it for us. So it’s hard to see why we need to spend time talking about it when our opinion does not matter. ”
I participated in some of the meetings he talked about and could well recognise the image. Besides, it’s far from the only place I’ve attended meetings that drain the participants’ energy and motivation. Meetings that made me wonder if the team achieved something that could not have been produced in other ways.
Fortunately, it’s not that hard to change a lousy meeting culture. In organisations that are settled and mature about meetings and their purposes, meetings are an useful and productive activity and not an energy-intensive business.
If you have an influence on your meetings, maybe if you even responsible for some of them, you will be able to improve them by following the advice below:
90% of all meetings lack preparation, and some meetings are not prepared at all. You sit in the meeting room at the appointed time, and you manoeuvre through it. A small number of meeting sessions are a little prepared by the one who is in charge of facilitating the meeting, but the rest of the participants are somewhat off.
A useful basic rule is that the facilitator uses the same time to prepare, as the timeframe of the meeting. An hour of one person’s time, in spite of 5-person time, is a good business for the company and you as a facilitator. You will find that your meetings are getting better and more constructive. Part of the preparation is to consider how you want the participants to be prepared, making sure that they have time to complete what they were asked to prepare. Here it is essential to be realistic. Do not expect each participant to spend a long time preparing for each meeting.
When to have the meeting
Meetings must be convened at a time when they disturb as little as possible and do not interrupt a focused flow for the meeting participants.
Paul Graham, author, programmer and co-founder of Y-combinator, “The World’s Most Powerful Start-Up Incubator” claims, among others, that there are two types of time in IT organisations; The time that the developer follows, he calls “Makers Schedule”, and the time managers and other good men follows is “Managers Schedule”. The first time mentioned consists of long stretches of immersion concentrated conversations and problem-solving. The other is chopped up in many small parts, usually for an hour’s duration, and it is a condition in which you go from one to the other. It is a big problem when those who produce must subjugate to the leaders’ schedule of time. If those who develop, tests and design products are interrupted by short-term meetings, their productivity and motivation will fall drastically.
A practical way to create space for productive time is that there are no meetings before lunch. At this point, you have a natural break. – Even the most focused and dimmed developers need to eat once in a while. If we follow this rule, we achieve 3-4 hours of focused working time in the morning.
In some of the companies I have worked with, we have also agreed that you are not allowed to call meetings in Microsoft Outlook. All day’s meeting sessions after lunch are decided on a short meeting just before lunch and settled in a sharp band just after breakfast in 1-2 hours. This rule can be frustrating and trick anxiety to the many who live their lives through Microsoft Outlook, but for the people who insist on manage meeting using Microsoft Outlook, to stop using Microsoft Outlook has always been a liberating and energy-releasing experience.
If you want to change, what time you have meetings, you may want to do it here: Look at a typical two week period for your team. How many total 3-hour periods do you have? Can you move some meetings and get more consistent time when it’s possible for employees to immerse themselves?
Relevance for the participants
One must ensure that the meetings are relevant and that the right employees participate. In some places, there is a fear of not being informed and involved in significant decisions. This fear leads to the fact that many attend meetings without actually being able to contribute. They attend to make sure that nothing is happening at the meeting and to ensure no lack of information.
This culture can be tackled by introducing a rule; the rule is never to make decisions that concern other than the participants, this without the persons have been consulted either before or after the meeting. Once you have reached the point that you no longer have to fear missing out on something, you can take the next step up the evolutionary path. On this level, you regularly consider who sits in on what meetings, and even let it be up to people to exempt themselves if they do not think that a meeting is relevant to them. This give two options, either you agree that it is not really relevant, or you may adjust the content and agenda of the meeting so that it becomes relevant to those participants.
The third step in this rise of meeting maturity is that it is perfectly fine to leave a meeting when you do not feel that you have more to contribute. In many places, it will be perceived as disrespectful if a person walks out in a meeting, even though the fact is that this could be seen as a dedicated person who would instead contribute productively to the company’s best.
The most important thing is that the meeting itself is productive and that it is experienced as such by the participants. There must be a minimum of control to keep the meeting on track, either by an agenda or by a previously known format. The meeting facilitator must navigate and be good at giving space and at the same time stopping downsides and sidelines, as often there are many. This is done by having a “parking lot” for topics that are important, but not relevant right now.
It is also good to have a meeting form that activates the participants of the meeting so that you benefit from the presence of more brains. This structure means that the facilitator must focus on the form of the meeting and not on the content. If there are things you can not say or opinions that are not ok to express in a meeting, then those people who have these opinions in question will check out mentally and not contribute to the meeting at all.
The best meetings run against a well-defined product: A plan, a list of activities, or a shared understanding which everyone in the meeting is co-creating.
A sure way to ruin a meeting is when a facilitator or referrer connects his PC to a projector and control the meeting by writing down what is agreed upon, while the meeting is progressing. From being a meeting between people who are talking and looking at each other, one finds itself in some kind of cinema where everyone present, focuses on what is happening on the screen.
Unfortunately it is not exciting to look at a screen when a person who is usually not super fast on the keys, writes conclusions from the meeting. Shortly after this process starts, a particular slow mode occurs in all the minds of all those present. The speed of thoughts can now not exceed the input speed on the screen. This is usually not impressive, everybody present is looking as 3-4 fingers on the keyboard writes incorrectly or have to delete something written. Only the person at the keyboard is active; everyone else falls into a dummy – because the brain can not keep running so slowly. The alternative is that people at the meeting find something else to think about. Such as reading mail and text messages on the phone, or looking out the window thinking about what will happen in the coming weekend.
Instead, separate the meeting from writing summary-report and updating the agile management tool. Make sure everyone is active, writes on post-its or on a whiteboard. In this way, you can shorten the meeting itself and improve quality and content. There will be a task in updating various tools after the meeting, but it’s well spend, and the responsibility can often shift between the meeting participants.
Also the venue for meetings can play a role in whether a meeting is productive or not. Do you have offices without windows where it feels as if the oxygen runs out after 15 minuttes? Is it the ever-present dull corporate interior that almost makes you fall asleep as soon as you arrive at the meeting?
Then try something radically. Put all tables up against the wall and sit in a circle. Bring a flower to the meeting and style them at the centre of the table. Hold the meeting somewhere else – take a walk around the block, find a bench in a park. – Do things that can stimulate the thoughts and energy.
Break the monotony and add a little unpredictability to the meetings so that the brain does not go into power save mode as soon as you enter the room.
Following the above advice, I can guarantee that you get more out of your meetings and hopefully also get a little more fun at work.
You can read more about good meetings on the links below, which I have also used as inspiration for this post: