Meetings, meetings, meetings. A new approach!

How does this work with meetings today? We have a topic to discuss or decide, think about which people we need and invite them to a meeting. But we are in a dilemma: If we invite too few people, the non-invited feel excluded. If we invite too many people, the meeting is tough and we “burn up” the working hours of those who are not actually needed.

Finding a suitable meeting date is also quite difficult as all calendars are full. A way out of this is to move the meeting very far into the future, where the calenders are still free. But that means we wait a long time.

Of the invited persons, only a fraction usually come, as many of the invited persons are invited to multiple meetings and decide on their own which meeting they are going to. As a result, we are often unable to make decisions in the meeting or we are at least severely restricted in this regard. Decisions are thus additionally delayed and then only made by only a few people.

For the meeting iteslf we need an agenda that we (hopefully) send in advance. Creating a meeting is not just about the content, but also about the way the meeting and the decision-making process is done. Most organizations have no standard approach to doing so, so each meeting organizer can and must invent their own process. It is clear that this makes meetings significantly different and differently good. After all, for most meetings, the constellation of organizer and participant is new.

Since everyone sits in too many meetings and thereby too much work remains, after the meeting start the computers are started and e-mails are processed. As a result, the focus of the meeting is lost and they become even more ineffective.

But that’s the way it is! Is it, really? Maybe there’s something different?

A new approach

  1. We establish a fixed rhythm of recurring meetings of maximum length for specific purposes. The so-called timebox means that the meeting is ended when the time is up or all topics are discussed or decided.
    1. Advantage: By defining and limiting the topics, the participants are limited and clearly defined.
    2. Advantage: The invitations can be planned for a long time, even against collisions with other recurring meetings. This allows an organization to set up a “meeting cadence” that will ensure that the people need will be able to participate in the meetings, as well as to establish a flow of decisions and information from these meetings. This flow allows for minimal lead time through the organization, i.e. important decisions can be made quickly.
  2. The meeting process is designed and continually improved by experienced persons (e.g., Scrum Masters), i.e. there is a clear approch for conducting the meetings, which everyone knows and is familiar with.
  3. Now, if we have a topic to discuss or decide, we first decide which of the recurring meetings is the appropriate one and then place the topic in the appropriate list (e.g., the list of open points).
  4. Within the meeting, the organizer or moderator walks through the corresponding list. If the list is  regularly fuller than possible in a meeting, the topics must be prioritized in advance, either by “awarding points” by the participants or by prioritizing by single role, e.g. of the Scrum Product Owner. It is important to walk through the list always from top to bottom, i.e. start with the highest priority. This ensures that the most important topics are discussed and decided, even if the time for the meeting is over. If this happens more often, the timebox for the meeting should be extended, as part of the improvement process.

The challenges lie in the balance between:

  • the right topic and purpose limitation for recurring meetings, so that the circle of participants is small enough, but not to hold too many meetings.
  • the duration of the meetings, so that all important points can be discussed but not to spend too much time.
  • the frequency of the meetings so that we can react quickly, but the participants do not have to meet too often.

One more word about the Meeting Minutes: If the organization uses collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, Jira/Confuence, Slack, Trello or similar, the list of meeting points can be easily gathered, prioritized and edited. (In Scrum, for example, this list would be the Team Backlog in the Refinement Meeting). Within the meetings the participants work directly on the entries within the tool, or by adding comments. Because all collaboration tools save who modified and when, the meeting minutes can be automatically generated by queries and filters linking the author and the time of the change. I have already done this with Jira/Confluence and Polarion. This type of automation is fun and drastically simplifies writing the meeting minutes.

Incidentally, the principles used here to structure meetings can also be used to structure projects. This can be read here.

[Photo by headway on unsplash.com]

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