Recipe for Effective Meetings

I was running late for a meeting. Frustrated over being late, the meeting itself that looked like a waste of time, and overall number of meetings we have, I got an enlightment:

Meetings are a penalty for the lack of effective [face to face] communication.

Meetings are overhead. Trash. Wasted time, multiplied by the number of participants. They grow in length and numbers and the process becomes Meeting Driven Development.

But in a real world software organization we do have meetings, and no chance to eliminate them in any foreseeable future. The best we can is keep them under control.

A simple recepie of effective meeting:
* Own a meeting
* Define the goal, and expected outcome.
* Publish Agenda
* Come prepared
* Keep it short. Consider timeboxing.
* Close the meeting explicitly.

Comments on the bullets:

Coming prepared made easier when the goal, agenda, and expectation are set and known in advance. But still takes a commitment, discipline, and some training. If you see the participants didn’t do their homework, stop and reschedule the meeting. It doesn’t pay to continue the meeting; so you better send a strong message and the next time it will certanly be better.

Why timeboxing? Look at those people! When they come to an air conditioned board room, dive into those nice executive leather cheers, and got ready to a nap, buddy, good luck with your agenda! To keep the energy level high, keep the meeting short. Timebox it to 30 minutes, and say so. Keep a timer. Stand up. Make everyone physically participate – write on a white board, take notes, walk, move! Don’t steal the whole meeting (oh, is it Dmitri saying that? who can believe!?)
Sometimes the meeting subject should be resolved and finished no matter what. Even then an incremental iterative approach to meeting pays off.

How to know when the meeting is done? How to know if it went well? The answer to this is a goal and expectations posted with agenda, and restated first thing in the beginning of the meeting. Write them down on the white board, have everyone look at it throughout the meeting.

Define the type of the meeting. Is it a brainstorming session? Is it a presentation? Is it an open discussion, feedback generation exercise? Are you gonna consume this feedback or throw it away? Decide, and define.

In closing, recap the goal, outline results, next actions, assigments. If the meeting was effective and productive, say so. Make your mates feel well (even if they missed their nap).

The final bullet:
* Foster communication beyond formal meetings. Remember that “Meetings are a penalty for the lack of effective communication.

Originally posted on Software Frontier

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