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Effective Tech Meetings - Avoiding the Disaster

The format of your meeting, or how you run the discussion, is more important than you may think. With design and technology people, it is important that meetings and communication happen in a productive manner because they can easily digress with different personality types.

Meetings are critical to good communication and maintaining relationships. However, they can also be a negative force in your work effort, not only hurting productivity and velocity, but demotivating people when not run effectively.

There are volumes written on productive meetings, and I suggest an exercise to research them and use what works best for you (consider Ray Dalio's 9 Common Sense Rules for getting the most out of meetings).

We should recognize that good meetings are amazingly helpful, but bad meetings are more than just bad. They can be destructive. However, suppressing meetings in general, to avoid bad meetings, is also wrong because it hurts relationships. We, as creatures, need to communicate, and that is what meetings are about: building relationships.

Meetings considered to be bad are usually so because bad meetings waste time on an individual's behalf, which puts them into the wrong mindset, and this feeds negativity. Not only have they wasted time they could have been spending being productive, they spend time thinking about themselves, their lack of work progress, and even discussing the wasted effort with others and fostering a negative mindset which spreads through the organization.

The challenge we face is that too much structure around meetings can also become a burden. However, is it possible to find a good balance? Consider asking everybody who makes a meeting to do three things:

  1. Choose one Format for the meeting.
  2. Set Topics for the meeting and let people know ahead of time what to expect.
  3. Limit Invitations to only those required, allowing them to communicate information back to their peers.

Of these three things, the Format of the meeting is often disregarded, yet is very important because mixing meeting formats leads to frustration and confusion. Establishing the format ahead of time establishes the type of conversation you expect so you can conduct matters quickly and efficiently. Most meetings fit within the following common formats:

  • Ideation — The Ideation type meetings are those where the conversation is to help figure out ‘what’ it is you want to do, but not necessarily getting stuck in the ‘how.’ However, these meetings typically discuss things at a very high level, and are different from Planning meetings. Take care to keep Planning and Tasking topics out of Ideation. During Ideation, you are discussing possibilities for deliverables, where in Planning and Tasking you already know what is being delivered. As Design Thinking is showing us, these are critical meetings to have earlier than later in a process, yet are often skipped, causing frustration as things have to be changed later in the process.

  • Planning — Planning Meetings contain the strategic discussions around deliverables that are already designed (if only roughly – the output of Ideation), but are not yet into the Tasking phase. Typically, in a Planning meeting, the stakeholders discuss high level implementation plans.

  • Tasking — Tasking meetings are tactical, focused around who is doing what work, how the work is progressing, and the other elements of task management. Depending upon the makeup and size of the team, it may be common to combine Planning and Tasking into a single meeting.

  • Understanding — This meeting is for building relationships. You focus on thinking outside of yourself, and understanding each other's needs and challenges. This is a highly valuable meeting to help synchronize between teams or individuals, but it is important to only focus on understanding, not solving. Scrum stand ups are a form of Understanding meetings, but they can also be something like sales presentations as you consider a vendors’ offerings.

    Takeaways from this meeting can create other meetings to help solve the problem. An easy approach to an understanding meeting is for everybody to discuss only those things which are at risk to their success or other's success. Feel free to list accomplishments or things that are going okay, but do not spend time on them. You may also simply ask, “how are things going?”

  • Team — Team type meetings build or discuss things not covered by the above.

The importance of keeping these meeting separate is based in harmony. A common mistake in Tech is to mix an Ideation meeting with a Tasking meeting — taking something that is still in the formulation/design phase and bringing it immediately into the how are we going to do it and who is going to do it. This causes stress because things are still at an idea phase. Avoid this by giving people time to formulate and explore and then followup with a Planning meeting.

This challenge is further explored in Activator: Success in Tech with Design Thinking, of which this is an Excerpt.

Image courtesy of rawpixel.com

Brandon Gillespie

Brandon Gillespie

Brandon loves Tech and has a breadth of experience including hands-on Implementation and Leadership Roles across many companies including small startups, enterprises, and the USAF.

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