Meetings - Reduce The Frequency & Improve Their Value17 April 2018
Some initial thoughts on business meetings.
Meetings kill creativity and your team’s ability to function.
There I have said it. Meetings are the bain of many team’s life. Daily stand-ups, full team meetings and full company meetings. Then there are the meetings that need two-thirds of your team to talk about that one upcoming button change. Everyone has seen the jovial conference call videos such as below.
Meetings slow things down. The fact of the matter is that employees need time and uninterrupted time at that to work. Breaking up their day for needless meetings results in a break in their mental flow. Not only does it break their flow it also makes them context switch. For developers, the cost of a 15-minute meeting could be between 30 and 60 minutes for each participant. Preparation and context switching away from a task and back again after the meeting. That is a lot of wasted, unproductive, time.
I have tried to structure the meetings on my team and at Open Energy Market differently. First off, constant communication between the relevant people is preferred to meetings. When meetings are suggested, I ensure only the minimum relevant people are involved. In addition, make your team responsible enough to make a decision rather than needing it to be made by committee.
The current schedule is based on a constantly reviewed feedback.
Development team meetings
No daily stand up calls or physical meeting. Yes, I know, we must be the worst Agile team ever. How can we not have a daily stand up? We do just via slack. I have written about this before and it just works for a remote based team. Try it and see if it could work for you.
Backlog review meeting. This is the only whole team meeting we have every week. The whole devops team join to review the latest stories and tasks created by the product owner. We talk through the stories and estimate story points. It’s honest and sometimes brutal for the PO and we will push back on anything we feel cannot be worked on. It’s held at 9 am (UK time) on a Monday morning. This is to prevent breaking anyone’s flow. The meeting is time-boxed to 1 hour or 1 1/2 hours depending on the volume of items being reviewed.
Team retrospective. Held on a Tuesday first thing every other two weeks (we currently run two weekly sprints). The whole team come together to answer the 3 main questions:
- What went well.
- What didn’t go well.
- What can we do better.
We tend to use a virtual whiteboard to help with this meeting and keep detailed notes. Actions are checked up on in subsequent meetings. This meeting is also timeboxed to an hour but usually lasts about 30 minutes.
Weekly catchups. I have an hour one to one with everyone on the team. They are scheduled at either first thing in the morning or last thing in the afternoon. This is to reduce context switching again. The aim of the catch ups is to ensure that each of my team gets time with me. They get to provide a detailed update on what they have achieved in the past week and details of any blockers. They also just get to present idea’s and if need be, rant.
Any meeting instigated outside of the Devops team is evaluated about its usefulness. We generally push back on these meetings but they are sometimes not optional. So we limit involvement to the only those people required. Most of the time I will take the meeting and feedback the results to those on the team that need to know.
This is a trickier subject. As an early stage startup, you absolutely need to have an all hand weekly meeting. For us, being remote, this was even more key. It helped to update everyone on progress, wins, loses and vital information.
When your team starts to grow these meeting get much longer. That risks devaluing the usefulness of them. We changed the structure of our weekly meetings when we hit this stage. We made it that each team gave an update on a weekly rotation. This was very useful and meant that they stayed around an hour. Again as the team grew it made the meetings quite long. Meetings have to add value and 90 minutes for 25 employees does not do that. It become a real issue when we had to hold it in the middle of the day. It was the only time that would overlap 3 time zones.
Right now we have dropped the weekly all-hands meeting. We are looking for alternative ways to share and communicate updates. Slack helps with this especially as we have integrated it with our platform. We all get notified about trades, new users and retentions.
We maintain a yearly “kick-off” meeting. It is used to get everyone together in the same room (or rugby stadium in our case). We hold that at the start of the company year to set targets and expectations on the team. It works really well and we always see great results in the following few months. We will be doing a mid-year one this year to maintain the traction.
This is what works for us. But, I would suggest while it might not work for you, you should review the meetings that consume your employees time and mental energy.