13 Apr How to have better meetings
Boring Meetings? Well, just leave them …
Meetings – a necessary evil in our daily work. Especially for engineers, they are the opposite of productiveness. Like one hour and no line of code produced – just wasted time. Nevertheless, we need them for collaboration and coordination, at least sometimes. At viesure, we are trying hard to reduce meetings wherever possible. This blog article shows how we reduce meetings to a minimum by using a specifically developed set of rules and how we apply them.
What’s wrong with meetings?
Generally, nothing is wrong with them. We have just witnessed that meetings are largely worked very inefficiently. Ten people sitting in a meeting for one hour, only two of them talking or solving the initial topic, but keep talking for half an hour about something unrelated? Sitting in a meeting, bored, checking your phone for the 42nd time? These are all signs that you could spend time in a better way — not convinced yet? Ten people, only two taking part means eight people could spend the time on something else. So basically, this is the equivalent of one working day, which is just lost. But it is not only about the wasted working hours, but it is also about the lost motivation if you are obliged to sit in a meeting that is not interesting for you.
Therefore we agreed on a set of standard rules and guidelines for meetings:
Try to avoid them
People are often likely to set up a meeting because it’s just like a trigger “need to do something with others – let’s do a meeting”. But there are other ways. For example, you can write a summary of your idea, send it out and ask for feedback. Or You could create a short video of you, presenting your argument visually. Creating a channel in your favorite communication tools such as MS Teams or Slack would also be another option. Each of those options has advantages and disadvantages but are definitely alternatives to consider. Often we also combine them – like sending out notes before the meeting and then shorten the meeting. This will improve your meeting quality and reduce the quantity.
No Agenda – No Meeting
Each meeting invitation has to contain an agenda. The goal of the meeting must be clear and having an agenda sent out before not only invites people to come prepared but literally encourages people to do so because nobody wants to be the only one not being ready for upcoming questions. Don’t fall into the trap of “starting to think” within the meeting. Do it before.
Take meeting notes
Summary: a meeting without meeting notes has not been taking place. Meetings notes are critical, e.g. for people who could not join the meeting or for yourself looking up the points discussed by others in two weeks from now. Furthermore, the written word helps that everyone understands the same thing, and the commitment is different. In the proper meeting notes, we include the main points discussed, decisions made, and action points (who does what until when).
End it early
After your agenda points have been discussed, end the meeting — there is no need to use up all the remaining time of your reserved meeting slot.
Leave the meeting if you can not contribute.
In some meetings, we just can not contribute for various reasons. Whether because someone could not prepare in time, or someone is the wrong person for the job, or the agenda points that were interesting for us have already been cleared. In a nutshell: don’t waste your time.
You could just ask, “I think I cannot contribute value here, are there any points you still need me for?” If not, you can leave. Yes, that’s a hard one, and it will take some time to become part of your culture. It is not a sign of bad manners, it is a sign of effectiveness and will help you save time. The time you can spend better somewhere else and therefore, provide more value.
If you are constantly checking your laptop or your phone, you are not only distracting yourself but also other participants. Leave your phone or your computer out of the meeting (if it is an on-site meeting) if you do not need it. If you are doing it out of boredom, leave the meeting. For online meetings, try to turn off your notifications, set your status to away in your MS Teams or Slack, close your email program, and close your browser windows – everything that can take away your attention.
Distribute speaking time evenly
In most meetings, only a minority is speaking out. That often leaves people who did not contribute for various reasons (e.g. more introverted, shy, etc.) in a state of lacking commitment to what has been discussed. Therefore actively ask all participants who have not spoken directly to participate and express their opinion, which can also mean to stop others from talking all the time.
It is the responsibility of every participant to demand that these meeting rules are abided by, not only of the person who set up the meeting. But, nobody is perfect. Even though we are not able to follow these rules all the time, we are trying to. It is not about making it 100%, it is about making it better, and that is what we have achieved with setting up our meeting guidelines. You have to keep them in mind, sometimes demand their compliance, even sometimes you have to break them. But in general, at least this is true for us at viesure, it was worth taking the time to define them.