The most useful things I’ve learned about meetings

Different types of meetings solve different types of problems.

We should have different types of meetings because we are solving different types of problems:

  • Strategy: What should we do?

References: Death by Meeting, The Art of Action

Meetings are only useful if the problem benefits from dialogue.

This seems somewhat obvious until you notice people are holding meetings out of reflex rather than thinking through what is needed to progress a situation (e.g., write something, prototype something, etc.).

The larger the meeting, the longer it takes to get to depth on any issue.

Too many people means inability to quickly get to depth.

Reference: Cindy Alvarez’ 6-Person Discussion

The less perspectives in a meeting, the less likely problems are detected.

Not enough perspective means inability to detect problems.

This point combined with the previous point is why I prefer to Draft, Share, Decide.

The larger the meeting the more explicit structure is required.

Minor issues in structure with a lot of people add up to a lot of wasted time and frustration.

Meetings are unproductive and boring because they lack drama.

Drama means necessary conflict.

Reference: Death by Meeting

Time boxing agenda items helps reduce indecision.

When you start discussing a topic, set a timer (e.g., 5 minutes). When the timer ends, collectively decide whether to continue discussing or make a decision. In many cases, the group is ready to make a decision but keeps talking because there’s no trigger to remind them that continued dialogue is not necessary.

Reference: Lean Coffee

Taking live notes helps confirm understanding AND address working memory limits.

When people don’t feel acknowledged, they have a tendency to keep raising a point. Writing that point down is an explicit acknowledgement.

When too many points are made in a meeting, people will forget and start repeating points which tends to make meetings longer than they need to be. Writing points down allow the group to externalise their memory so they don’t forget.

Decide how to decide before making decisions.

It’s quite confusing to introduce the decision-making approach in the middle of making a decision so it’s useful to decide how to decide beforehand.

Mike Cohn has a nice summary of several consensus decision making approaches, though it should be “fist-to-five”, as in from fist to five fingers; “fist-of-five” is what a fist is.

Meetings are interruptions; interruptions affect makers differently than managers.

Maker work tends to require more concentration; manager work tends to involve a lot of interruption. This is generally why makers find meetings more annoying.

Reference: Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule

No-meeting blocks reduce the impact of meeting interruptions.

It’s better have extended blocks of time with more meetings outside those blocks than to have less meetings scattered all over the place.

Some people like no meeting days; I prefer core hours with no meetings every day.

Breaking work up reduces the impact of meeting (or really any kind of) interruptions.

If you break your work up into smaller, independent pieces, an interruption tends to be less disruptive.

Reference: Pomodoro technique

Senior Agile Coach at Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl

Senior Agile Coach at Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl