Ah, the dreaded meeting. It appears on your calendar at the worst opportunity, a small package of time you had purposely put out of your mind, silently reminding yourself how many useful things you could be getting done instead. Or maybe this is a meeting you’ve called. Now the pressure is on to ensure that everyone feels as though their time was well spent, and that you’ve managed to be a good source of knowledge.
The impact can be even more staggering if you’ve recently transitioned from one group to another that is running a different development process. Imagine leaving an Agile group to go to one using a Waterfall methodology. Meetings seem slow and cumbersome and likely lack the structure you are used to. Or if you are leaving a Waterfall group and joining an Agile one, suddenly you are bombarded with many meetings dealing with fewer long term goals.
Regardless of what method your group is using, the honest truth is that a bad meeting is simply a bad meeting. Whatevert the topic is, what needs to be done, or what people need to get out of it, a bad meeting can set the tone for the rest of your day, and it is not a good one.
Every team needs to have an official playbook for when meetings are called. This is not something that the team lead should dictate, rather this should be a collaborative process, so that everyone has a say in what is essentially the use of their time. This needs to be as straight forward as possible, and ultimately a very simple principle to follow through on.
(The Agile methodology largely handles this on its own. That being said, I do feel that every group should be free to tweak those guidelines so that it best fits their group dynamic. Never be a slave to the process, man!)
My suggestions are as follows:
- Come prepared. This is for everyone involved in the meeting, and doubly so for whomever called it. If reading was required before hand, make sure you’re up to date. If action items exist from the last meeting, make sure you have an update. If you have questions, make sure to try and formalize them. If you are running the meeting, try to anticipate obvious questions ahead of time, and prepare some answers.
- Feel free to decline meeting requests, and also be prepared to have people decline your meeting requests. A quick one or two lines as to why you either cannot make it, or do not feel that you have much to contribute is all that should be needed. If as the meeting organizer you feel that the person’s contribution is vital, try to follow up quickly either in person or over the phone. A back and forth via email is a serious time waster here.
- When organizing a meeting, add up the time. If you are scheduling a meeting for 8 people (including yourself) for one hour, realize that this is now occupying 8 hours worth of effort just for the meeting itself. If each person needs half an hour of prep time, the total effort is now at 12 hours. If minimal follow up is required, that is yet another small amount of time to add. This isn’t a number that you have to justify, but it is a number that you need to be aware of. Are there ways you can reduce this number? Are there ways you could be better using that time? Is your project at a critical point where that amount of time is too much to take away?
- Minutes, action items and follow up are mandatory. These can be incredibly loose, point form, short and minimal, but they are always needed. If your group hasn’t setup a system for putting this together, whomever called the meeting should be accountable for ensuring that these items are provided. As somebody that has let this item slip more times than he is comfortable admitting, there really isn’t any excuse to not put this level of effort into a meeting.
Again, these are only some of my ideas, and I would expect to have to discuss them, adapt and other items in any group I am a part of. A meeting is probably the most collaborative effort we have in any work environment, and the structure for them needs to have meaningful input from the entire team in order to truly function. By taking the time to set up the ground rules, you can help ensure that you aren’t wasting time, are tackling issues fairly, and have a solid understanding of what is expected out of everyone in team meetings. And if you do a good job of it, you might not dread seeing those meetings pop up on your calendar quite so much. Possibly. Maybe. Perhaps…