Christopher’s Guidelines For Meetings

I promise, these “me too” posts are not going to become a habit.

I saw yet another item on SvN that spoke to me.  The topic was the negative effect of meetings on workday focus, productivity, etc.  As usual, the SvN guys took an extreme position – “don’t do meetings” – but I’m going to present what I think is an effective approach to having meetings.  They really can be useful, you just have to run them correctly.  I’ve been told that my stance on meetings is extreme, too.  We’ll see what you think.

Note that I’m referring to these as “guidelines” rather than “rules” so you don’t get the impression that I’m saying my way is the only way.  I am, however, saying that my way might very well be the best way.

Christopher’s Meeting Guideline #1:  Meetings should never be used to present information, only to make decisions about information presented prior to the meeting.  Yeah, yeah, how do people GET information unless it’s presented to them in a meeting, blah blah blah.  See rule 2.

Christopher’s Meeting Guideline #2:  Meetings should have a written objective and agenda, which should be distributed in advance.  Preferably the distribution takes place far enough in advance that the participants have time to actually read up on the subject matter.  I know – being prepared goes against human nature, nobody has time to read, it’s not realistic, blah blah blah.  If nobody in your business has time to spend 15 minutes reading a brief in preparation for a meeting, you have bigger problems than evil meetings.

Christopher’s Meeting Guideline #3:  No chairs.  This one drives people crazy.  I can hear you already – “No chairs?!?  Have you lost your mind?!?  What about pregnant people?  What about the crippled?  What about employees who wheelchair bound, do you force them to hang from their hands, you cold-hearted dog?”  Obviously one must accommodate team members who have extenuating physical circumstances.  But mark my words – stand-up meetings make for short meetings.  Which brings us to…

Christopher’s Meeting Guideline #4:  No meeting should go longer than 1 hour, and even THAT is too long.  I think this one is self-explanatory.  I don’t want to hear about how sometimes 3-hour meetings are necessary.  A 3-hour meeting is a seminar, not a meeting.

Christopher’s Meeting Guideline #5:  The meeting should always start on time.  If you are late, you should find yourself locked out.  Punctuality is the minimum entry fee to professional life as an adult.  If you can’t pull that off, don’t expect to walk in and waste everyone’s time getting caught up on what you missed.

Christopher’s Meeting Guideline #6:  The meeting should have a moderator to help participants to focus.  If someone is continually driving the meeting off-topic, that person should be asked to leave.  “But that’s rude and it singles out that person for humiliation and it’s not fair” and blah blah blah.  My heart bleeds, pal.  You’re in a meeting for a purpose – if a person can’t support and advance that purpose, they should go do something else that is productive.

Christopher’s Meeting Guideline #7:  Invite the fewest number of people necessary to make a decision on the meeting’s subject matter.  I once worked someplace that held “open meetings,” where everyone from the receptionist to the janitor was welcome to come and weigh in on engineering issues.  This is nuts.  The meeting organizer needs to cherry-pick the right mix of participants to ensure well-rounded decision making.  No more and no less.

Christopher’s Meeting Guideline #8:  No food, no drinks, no laptops, no cell phones.  Oh, I can hear you complaining already – “What if we need to look something up while we’re in the meeting?  What if I get an emergency phone call?  What if I didn’t make it to the coffee cart that morning and need my latte?”  What if, what if, what if.  Regarding the phone, why would you interrupt a task of known importance for a phone call of unknown importance?  That’s not an effective use of your time.  Regarding the laptop and coffee, I think they tend to distract.  Your mileage may vary.

Christopher’s Meeting Guideline #9:  If the group hasn’t reached a decision at the 60 minute mark, the meeting ends anyway and the meeting organizer makes the decision.

Christopher’s Meeting Guideline #10:  If you have not read or are not familiar with the subject matter that the meeting addresses, don’t show up.  Your presence will require the group to violate rule #1.

Obviously, you need to find a meeting style that is effective for your team.  When I say effective, I mean “leads to brief, focused meetings that result in a decision being made on some important issue.”  So feel free to tweak these rules to suit you, but be warned – I’ll go on record here as saying that if you’re violating more than three or four of these, your meetings are probably life-sucking, soul-deadening, productivity killers.

Get on the stick and retool your meetings, pronto!

Starting in the Middle and Writing

I read a good piece over on To-Done about starting projects in the middle.  I see that  today’s Signal vs. Noise noticed it as well.  I’m usually hesitant to make “me too” posts, but I think that this is a good enough insight into project work to be worth parroting.

Britt makes a good point about not necessarily needing to start a new project by addressing the first element of the requirements.  I do this all the time with writing.  It’s rare that I’ll write anything from start to finish.  In general, I write small one- or two-sentence snippets that serve to illustrate some part of the point I want an article to make.  If I’m lucky, I’ll get a whole paragraph out.  Then I just drag and drop these snippets and paragraphs into the order in which they make the most sense.  Voila!  Finished article.

Truthfully, I figured everyone worked like this.  Let me ask – how many of you actually start your writing project by writing Page 1, or start developing an application by coding Requirement 1.0?

If it works, it works, and that is one of the highest values to which any project can aspire, but starting with the beginning and ending with the end just seems like an un-naturally orderly way of doing things.  I always try to run tight projects, but just a dash of chaos seems to do a good job of greasing the wheels.