A better way to have meetings not suck

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You’ve probably all sat in at least one — quite likely more — of that meeting variety where the “leader” of the meeting says something like, “So, what’s everyone working on?”

And then for an hour or so, it’s just person after person running down their task list.

“Well, I’ve got to deploy this email for the Sturgill account…”

“Got some bug fixes on the 6.15 release…”

This goes on and on. Even if the meeting is with your direct/immediate team, chances are more than 50% of what’s being said isn’t relevant to you and your tasks. Most people deal with this meeting by zoning out — remote employees even moreso — and then waiting for their name to be called, hastily taking themselves off mute/snapping out of a daydream, regurgitating three-five things on their plate, and re-muting.

We all know the drill.

These meetings are pointless time sucks. How can we fix this?

First: why do these meetings even exist?

Couple of often-stated reasons:

  • “To get everyone on the same page”
  • “Accountability”
  • “Updates and statuses”
  • “Progress reports”
  • “To see what your teammates are working on”

The real reasons:

  • Most who become managers have no clue how to run a meeting
  • Many of them are not sure what their direct reports are even working on, honestly, so they are getting educated in real-time
  • Someone probably created this meeting years ago when a ball was dropped on a big project — “We need weekly check-ins!” — and even though the meeting has long since outlasted its relevance, it’s still on everyone’s calendar and everyone trudges into it when it arrives each week

How can we improve all this?

Well, first we need to teach people how to run better meetings. That’s tough, but by no means impossible. Some primers:

If you have some approaches to running the meeting better, that’s a good first step.

The next thing you need is a different format.

Instead of “What’s everyone working on?” — let’s try this.

The new question is “What issues/pain points are people having that the rest of this group could help with?”

The psychology of that question cuts two ways

The positive way: You are legitimately fostering a sense of community, connection, collaboration, and helping each other. This team is now about “If I have issues, I can voice them and these other people will help me figure out how to solve a work issue.” Awesome.

The negative way: No one wants to be seen as incompetent/lesser/can’t do their job at work, so a lot of people might be silent if you asked that question — or, paradoxically, just go into their task list because that’s how this meeting has always been done.

The problem with the task list

Work shouldn’t even be about tasks, really — it should be about a logical big picture getting executed upon in a semi-strategic way. Yes, the execution is tasks. But so often the tasks overwhelm everything else (we’ve all worked in those places), and then it’s just a Temple of Busy mess with no priorities.

Look, I might work on the same team as some dude named Dan. But he does X and I do Y. The twain do meet — we’ll work on a few things together here and there — but in a given Wednesday meeting, I don’t care about all these deliverables killing Dan’s work-life mojo. I could give two shits. Get your stuff done. I’ll get my stuff done. We’ll work together when we have to. That’s life. That’s definitely work for most. Knock it out and move on. Why do I need to hear Dan prattle on about how he plans to spend his Thursday talking to some agency about email marketing? Great. Fucking do it. When you have a pain point around all this, bring THAT to the group. Let’s work together to solve it.

Meetings take up an ungodly amount of time — it’s really one of the only things some managers even do — so maybe we should invest in making them better. Right? Let’s try.

Written by

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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