Bad Meetings are Bad

Lots of talk about Shopify cancelling all recurring meetings with more than 2 participants. This talk led me to tweet this morning in response to a question from @AshColeman30

This brought out one of my favorite sayings, “Meetings aren’t bad, bad meetings are bad”.

They had an interesting response, which made me think about what makes a bad meeting bad, and a good meeting good. The following post is a quick stream of consciousness response to that question. Hopefully it is useful to some, and not too rambling.

My first thought was about different types of meetings, some of which I tend to find more or less “good”.

Status Meetings – A senior manager with all their direct reports giving an update on projects. Often people check out when it isn’t their turn. All of the same status updates are also reported in various e-mails, messages, or updates in multiple tracking systems. I rarely find these meetings useful.

Sharing Meeting – This is my solution to the Status Meeting. Gather folks with similar interests and let them talk about things they are working on. It looks a lot like a status meeting, however the audience isn’t the senior leader in the room, it is your peers. Folks from several departments are invited, though no one is required to attend. I have had at least one meeting similar to this on my calendar weekly for about 5 years now, and it is normally my favorite of the week.

Problem Solving Meetings – I love these meetings! The first portion of the meeting is clearly defining the problem (or often problemS) that needs solving. I write each problem down separately. The remainder of the time is spent proposing solutions, and tying those solutions back to the specific problems it solves There is no magic sauce here, but having all the right stake holders in the room to have these conversations can be very powerful.

Collaboration Meetings – Planned time to go heads down with team mates on an implementation of a solution is time very well spent. Normally that solution was agreed upon in a problem solving meeting. Meetings like this can last several hours, or even span days. Some people might call this pairing or just doing the work. But I figure if it is scheduled on a calendar, we’re sitting in a Google Hangout or Zoom room, it’s a meeting, and I enjoy them.

Coaching Meetings – An interesting thing if you read between the headlines on the Shopify meeting policy is that they still want 1:1 meetings. They cancelled recurring meetings with more than 2 participants, which means all those 1:1s are still safe. I have had lots of good 1:1s, and lots of bad ones. There are plenty of resources out there on how to make these effective. All I will say is it’s up to both participants to make good use of their time. Not all coaching meetings are 1:1 though, teams can work through coaching meetings as well.

Agile Ceremonies – I figure if I don’t put this in here someone will yell at me. Scrum defines a set of meetings that lots of people love or hate. Most of those meetings fit into one of the categories I mentioned above. If your big-A Agile ceremonies are bad, then use your retrospectives (a coaching meeting) to make them better.

Ash asked me about agendas vs. facilitation. I know I didn’t touch on that directly above, but I do think facilitation has much more to do with good meetings than agendas do. Agendas are one tool to assist in facilitation. I have been in plenty of great meetings without an agenda, and plenty of bad meetings with an agenda.

There are a few other thoughts I have about bad meetings that might stretch into a later post. Things like ego, lake of engagement, posturing, people who won’t shut up, and people who won’t speak up could all make their way into that post. If you want to hear more add some interesting comments on LinkedIn (here).

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