Meetings, more harm than good?

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If you follow me on social, you have probably seen my post about the surplus of meetings I generally have. This week was no less, rather, one of the most jam packed yet. So, I want to chat about meetings and if they are really worth it.

Quick background, I am a product manager that leads product, design, and QA teams. Since I am not solely an individual contributor, I understand that meetings generally come with the territory, but how many is really ok?

Meetings can be of great value. They can bring people together for real collaboration, ideation, and debate. Wonderful ideas and products are born out of meetings. The power of being able to organically converse in real time, while seeing body language and demeanor is rarely matched. Complex thought can be much easier to explain when face to face, too.

While all of these are reasons why meetings work, they are also the reason why meetings don’t always work. Depending on the people and/or teams involved, there might only be a handful of them conversing. There might be a power dynamic that weighs in a certain direction. There might even be the general speaker and listener head nod. If you work in tech or a more office-like environment, you know exactly what I mean.

Yes, there are good reasons for them, but what about the bad or neutral ones?

Meetings are expensive. Not only the time to gather bodies in a proverbial room for 30-90 minutes, but also the time before and after a meeting, prepping and working on action items. One meeting can cost 1-5 hours of time. Even if that meeting is just between two people, that can be hundreds or thousands of dollars spent. Who is attending the meetings? Does every person need to be there? All that prep and all you do is speak to what you have already written down. Then someone hears your words and provides feedback or an actionable that may or may not have been heard or absorbed correctly. That brings me to my second point, are meetings efficient? Not only do they act as a turbulent game of telephone, but do all of them have true take-aways? Did the hours consumed have a return? Even if they did, is it measurable?

I want this letter not to be a brain dump or a soap box, but I want to share my examples and provide solutions for them.

I need to preface this with: meetings are 100% a cultural thing within organizations. If you find that meetings are an issue within your company and have solutions to fix them, if you want to see real change, it comes top down. So yes, use my lessons, but for real implementation you must get the stake holders in your company on board too.

So, my situation. The company I work for has always had a ton of meetings, but since the pandemic and working remotely full time, they have multiplied roughly three times.

Over the last week 8/31/20 - 9/4/20 I have had 20 meetings. Yes, they were all 100% remote. Some of these meetings were 30 minutes, at most 1 hour, and a few over that. They occurred anytime between 9 am and 8 pm est. and some days at both ends of the 11 hour timespan .

This level of idiocy is what triggered this topic and why I am writing this on the same day I send it out, rather than 5 days earlier, like I usually do.

Solutions

  • I mentioned that this is company culture based, and it is, so the the first thing is, asynchronous first.

    • Every employee, CEO to individual contributor, has a very different schedule and these schedules should move at the pace of the person, not the company.

    • Asynchronous communication, including meetings, allows each person to work at the time that works best for them.

    • This applies to both in office or remote work, though it will be more noticeably valuable when remote.

  • Meetings that are primarily a presentation with an audience, what I like to call presentation meetings.

    • This could be a demo, a pitch, or a status update.

    • Record these in advance and send them off to the attendees for review.

    • Set specific actionable items that you want out of this and provide a way for the watchers to provide feedback/responses in a transparent way.

  • The infamous brainstorming meeting.

    • If done in a meeting, it should be done with a very concise agenda.

    • There should only be people in the meeting that are participating, no viewers only.

    • If at all possible, do them remotely with a tool that best suits your needs. I like Miro, Mural and Figma for this.

  • The meetings that must happen, unavoidable meetings.

    • These should be done with as least people as possible.

    • These should be scheduled with all attendees in mind.

      • If people need to “shift” their schedules, it might not be that important or there might be too many attendees.

    • Have the meeting, but record it for all the people that might need to see it.

      • If there are people that need to be included in the conversation but couldn’t make it, do not come up with action items until everyone has had a chance to review them.

      • Collect these in a transparent tool for all to see, my favorites are Basecamp and Notion.

  • If the meeting does not fall into the other categories, it’s called don’t have a damn meeting.

    • This is where asynchronous fully pays off.

      • You can use your asychronous tool of choice, mine is, again Basecamp.

        • They have a killer tool called check-ins which is built just for this.

      • There are others too. Twist from Doist seems to work well. Imagine Slack and a Wiki in one.

    • If an async meeting/convo is not even needed, just document it, likely in your Wiki.

      • The best tool for anything like this is 100% Notion.

Like I keep saying, these solutions will only stick if the company changes how they think of meetings. I have tried in mine, but it never sticks. This is because all of the stake holders live for them, “nothing beats a face to face meeting“– yes, yes something does. TIME, you can never get it back!

Ok, that’s all the yelling from me. The 20 meetings pushed me too far.

My last advice to at least dodge these meetings, is to plan your week(s) in advance. Any time you see on your calendar that can be used for better things other than meetings, time block. Pick those one hour to ninety minute blocks and put a task on them. Something that requires deep work is generally best, but emails or document updates works too.

Having less meetings means getting back time that you deserve. Time that can be used to do more important tasks. Having less meetings also means you control your time. Don’t get me started on the forty hour work week. If you want my opinion on that, let me know.

Have a great two weeks, I wish zero meetings for you!