Operation Bootstrap

Web Operations, Culture, Security & Startups.

Why Do I Have to Have You in the Room to Get Your Opinion?

| Comments

I love meetings. I enjoy sitting around with my friends and co-workers, talking about what is going on in the world, sharing jokes, and having fun. I like hearing other peoples ideas, and I like collaborating with other people to come up with good ideas. I like making progress.

I dislike sitting in a room, presenting a topic which can be easily read from an email or document (and usually that’s exactly what is done in the room) and getting input, which could likewise be done in a document or email.

In other words, all meetings are not created equal. But you knew this…

I have tried for a few years now what I thought might be a successful approach to help reduce, at the very least, the length of the meetings I ran. I would create a meeting, say a week from now, and attached to this meeting would be either a document or a link to an online document. The intent of this document is to outline the agenda for the meeting and provide prompts to get everyone’s feedback in advance. I would ask people explicitly to send me their input. My thinking goes, if people provide their feedback in advance, I can put it up at the start of the meeting – we can spend 5 minutes reading the document with everyones feedback, and then we can start to discuss actions as a group and move forward.

It rarely works. I am typically left with an empty document, or with one or two participants who provide input.


Does everyone else love meetings? Is it just me who hates them?

I know there are places where meetings are right. If I have 15 different projects and we need to come to an agreement on the priority of those – a meeting is where those actions are going to be produced. But documenting what those projects are, making sure they are accurately described, knowing how they map to company goals – none of that requires 15 peoples time.

So, in the interest of making this a constructive post – I suggest a few things to think about for your next meeting both as organizer and attendee:

  1. Meetings cost money. Just like features cost money to build, meetings cost money to have. Think about how you can deliver maximum value at minimum cost.

  2. Prepare. Think about what you want your participants to provide input on and tell them in advance. Provide a mechanism for them to provide feedback in advance – get a dialog going in advance. You can often even get participation from people who cannot attend the meeting this way.

  3. Remind. The day before the meeting: “Yo! There’s a meeting tomorrow, read the document I attached and comment on it. The benefit to you is that the meeting WILL end early if you do this”.

  4. Have a parking lot. If stuff comes up that folks want to deep dive into – ask if you can put it in the parking lot and move along. It’s good to identify important issues but unless they must be solved for the meeting to move forward they should become a separate discussion. This is not because they aren’t relevant, but it’s because they are important and deserve dedicated time and attention.

  5. Start on time, end on time. This is my own personal rule – I set a window for the meeting and I would rather have to re-schedule the meeting to achieve the goal than disrespect everyones time by running long or starting late.

But the most important rule of all for me – if you can avoid having a meeting – avoid it. You can meet or you can work, you can’t do both.