Lesson Learned: Getting meetings right is enormously important.
This blog post is part of a series of leadership lessons that I have learned from 40 years in tech.
So much has been said and written about meetings, and this is by no means meant to be a comprehensive guide. But I have seen bad meetings, and bad meeting cultures, suck the life (and literally, the time) out of organizations. And I have seen well-executed meetings be an essential tool in moving teams forward. The best organizations I’ve been a part of developed good discipline around when to have and not have meetings, and who attends. It never started off that way, but we worked on it over time, continued to improve, and avoided backsliding. So I’d like to share my favorite lessons learned — a practical and simple guide to effective meetings.
- The best use of meetings is to solve problems and/or make decisions, and the attendees should be only the people necessary to do this. Having others there is a waste of their time. And not having the right people present to make decisions is a waste of everyone’s time.
- Meetings should be viewed as an investment and, like any other investment, the return should be maximized. This is best done with good preparation, including an agenda, and clear outcomes, and documented decisions and assigned action items. Have a scribe who publishes the outcomes, to ensure participants all walk out with the same understanding, and so that non-participants (see previous point) can be informed.
- Meetings should not be used to communicate status. That can be done asynchronously through email, Slack, etc. in a much more time-efficient way. One exception is daily standup meetings, as long as the updates are quick and deliberate.
- There is one other important exception to the status communication rule. Meetings should be used to communicate information when a leader is providing high-level information and insights. In this case, the delivery and non-verbal communication is important, and frequently the leader will want to answer questions or have open discussions. For example, monthly department meetings or quarterly company meetings. Those should be called something other than “meetings” because they are a different animal. I like the word “updates.”
- There should be a meeting facilitator who ensures that the agenda is followed and who can manage the inevitable organic flow of ideas. Every meeting meanders off track and a good facilitator knows when to let it go, when to reign it back in, and when to capture “parking lot” items to be tabled and addressed elsewhere.
Here are some signs that a meeting has gone wrong:
- Attendees have their heads in their laptop or phone. This means they probably should not be there.
- The meeting stalls because no one can make a decision. This probably means a key decision-maker is missing.
- Meetings consistently run overtime or run out of time. This probably means that there is not a clear agenda or an effective facilitator.
Following these simple guidelines for when to have meetings, who to include, and how to run them, can help you ensure you are getting maximum return from your investment.