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Simple Rules to Ensure Your Meetings Matter

Matt Bettinson

Matt Bettinson

Software Engineer

May 7, 2020

frustrated employee working on laptop at home

Why do so many meetings suck? Most people see meetings as an interruption from work, that they’re a waste of time. How many times have you heard in whispers “that meeting could have been an email” and agreed? 

In the time of COVID-19 and Zoom, companies are leaning into more meetings than less in order to replicate the office environment, making it more frictionless than ever to invite someone to a meeting, whether or not it’s really necessary. This is often done without asking the all-important question: Why? 

Without this question it’s impossible to look objectively at other questions, such as: Can I be more mindful of people’s time by sending an email, or a well-written slack message? Can I write a page on the internal resource library to have a longer-term impact? What is the value of this quick communication? Jumping to the conclusion of needing a meeting also fails to recognize that a meeting does not always extract value equally for every attendee. Some people can zone out, are less vocal due to introversion, or absorb information worse during a meeting. And when meetings simply exist to take up time, we lose out on time that could be spent making products better.

Asynchronous communication

Basecamp states in their rule book that “chat dissolves, writing persists”. A meeting will be forgotten within the month, but if you write an email or memo you create a permanent resource that can be archived and re-read. Asynchronous communication can allow participants to be more mindful of what they say and how the audience interprets the content. This transition into more intentional and respectful communication can allow us to build more thoughtfully designed products.

On a recent project, I introduced a new set of API endpoints. I scheduled a meeting to walk through them with the team. Afterwards, I realized that I could have shared documentation instead, and asked for their feedback asynchronously. Then, if it was decided that a meeting was necessary, I could have scheduled as per the team’s needs. In this way, I would be able to use an asynchronous-first communication style that allows the team to give careful consideration and measured feedback in their own way, allowing them to do their best work and make the best products possible.

Meeting facilitation

If a meeting has a clear reason for being scheduled and requires the direct participation of every participant, it can be an invaluable way to sort something out. However, when was the last time you came out of a meeting thinking “that was a perfect use of everyone’s time”? 

We need to take extra care that meetings are valuable and worthwhile uses of everyone’s time. We need to appoint a facilitator to maximize the value of meetings. 

A facilitator is responsible for achieving the meeting goal while maximizing the level of engagement of all attendees.

  1. A facilitator establishes the goal of the meeting. Examples:
    • Communicate decisions made
    • Gather information from others
    • Create a plan
  2. Drill down to the actual goal. “You want to communicate a decision made. What is the end goal of knowledge being transferred? What action items do you wish the attendees fulfill?
  3. Clarify if more than one meeting is needed. The facilitator is responsible for scoping the meeting and it’s goal.

Facilitating meetings properly when they’re necessary and considering alternative, more long lasting methods of communication can allow us to build better products. We have more time to do them, our attention isn’t broken as easily, and we can consider our input better.

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve ended meetings only to look around and realize I’m still at home, I’ve had the time to truly see the value of good meetings and understand the frustrations of others when a meeting puts a dent in their productive time. At Connected, our job is always defined around one key job—building better products—and for me, only if a meeting helps to do that job, is it time well spent.

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