“Why can’t you do your work while you’re at work?” “There isn’t time. I have to go to meetings.” - John Cleese, “ Meetings, Bloody Meetings” (1976)
What’s worse than long, pointless meetings? More of them – which is what you have if you hold long, pointless meetings. Bad meetings beget more meetings.
Fortunately, the collaborative culture we have here at WillowTree allows us to get things done efficiently. We work on small, focused project teams and often hold meetings. A few examples:
- Daily “Stand-Up” Meetings – these typically last less than 15 minutes (often less than 5), and help establish the project’s focus for the day’s effort.
- Team Meetings – are held for resource teams (e.g. the Android team, the iOS team, etc.) to compare notes and talk about issues affecting everyone on the team.
- All Hands – is a weekly whole-company meeting (with breakfast!) to update everyone about marketing, operations, business development, etc., and welcome new employees to the company.
- Lunch & Learn – is a weekly meeting (with lunch!) to learn about interesting topics in mobile technology (or just interesting topics).
- Project Meetings – are ad-hoc, highly-focused meetings for making critical project decisions.
This last category – the meetings we have because work gets stuck if we don’t have them – has the most potential to turn into a wasteful quagmire. Without a concerted effort on the part of the entire company to maintain good meeting hygiene, it’s easy to waste an entire week in one bloody meeting after another without getting anything done. But a few simple rules make it possible for us to have the meetings we need to have and still stay productive.
- Rule #1 - Don’t have a meeting. Seriously: if you don’t need it, don’t hold it. You need a meeting if a decision requires discussion that can’t happen any other way.
- Rule #2 - Have a reason for the meeting. Know what you want out of the meeting, and make sure everyone who’s there knows it, too. Publish an agenda ahead of time, along with all materials necessary for decision-making during the meeting. Decline any meeting invites that don’t include this information. (Note that Amazon famously provides a “study hall” time for its meetings – that works, too, but it’s not how we do things.)
- Rule #3 - Invite the decision-makers to the meeting. You can’t make decisions without them (duh). Similarly, don’t invite people who aren’t necessary. Keeping meetings small limits sidebars and tangents.
- Rule #4 - Start on time, every time. This is key to ending on time, and it encourages people to arrive on time (especially if you start without the latecomers).
- Rule #5 - (Corollary to rule No. 4.) End on time or GTFO. If you have the room at 2, you can kick out anyone in the room. Even the CEO (especially the CEO).
- Rule #6 - There is absolutely no rule #6 (sorry, John).
- Rule #7 - No devices, no exceptions. Well, one exception – if you’re using a device to take notes. Or run the meeting. Okay, two exceptions: taking notes, running the meeting, and demonstrating software. Okay, three exceptions – ugh, I’ll just have to come in again.
- Rule #8 - Take notes - and publish them. You held this meeting to make a decision; once it’s made, you have to tell people what it was.
By following these common-sense rules, we’ve created a culture of short and effective meetings that actually help get work done instead of getting in the way. Good meetings should beget good work, not more (bloody) meetings.