Death by meeting (strippers need not apply)

Over the years, I've worked with a number of FTSE 100 companies. To this day, I still have no idea how anyone gets anything done, considering most of their 9 - 5 is either in meetings, preparing for a meeting, or talking about the actions from those meetings in another meeting.

Utterly bewildered, I'd go along, often spending hours going over the same topics for the output to be:

  • We need another meeting to discuss further because we've run out of time
  • We can't make a decision yet because [insert name] isn't here
  • We don't have enough information to make a decision

URGH. If there's something that frustrates me it's inefficiency. What's the point of inviting all these people unless we reach a decision or a series of next steps? And why on earth am I here?!

It's almost like the more people involved, the better and more important the meeting is perceived to be.

Funeral strippers

A couple of weeks ago, I read an article about the Chinese authorities clamping down on "funeral strippers". Supposedly, the more mourners you have to your funeral, the more well-off your family appears. Therefore, in order to achieve higher levels of attendance and seem more wealthy, some families have resorted to hiring strippers to attract the crowds. 

On paper, it may seem a bit of a stretch as a comparison, but all too often we are big-headed and assume that what we need to discuss is particularly important. The entire team (and often innocent bystanders) are invited to pointless, boring discussions with no tangible output. Everyone joins, drawn in by the promise of something exciting, feels awkward throughout, and ultimately leaves feeling dead inside.

Upfront contracts

I learnt a technique on a training course a while ago about Upfront Contracts - something I try to enforce before every conversation and every meeting. A UFC should consist of the following.

  1. Purpose. What's the point of the meeting / conversation?
  2. Agenda. What are we going to be talking about? Are we all in agreement that this is the right agenda?
  3. Timing. How much time do we have in total to reach a decision?
  4. Output. What do we all need out of the meeting, and at what point do we decide that it is over?

What this doesn't consider, however, is the quality or number of people in attendance. This goes back to the Lean Start-up concept. Who are the influencers that will enable you to progress? What's the minimum amount of input you need to reach a way forward?

This is a very important point, as inviting the wrong people may lead to the same problem, despite having a clear set of objectives.

Another one bites the dust

In fact, sometimes meetings aren't necessary at all. Again, referring back to Lean Start-up, sometimes it's necessary to pivot to be more efficient. A good example of this at Red Badger was during a recent project. Retrospective discussions were being held at 4.30pm every Tuesday afternoon but it became clear that the team were mature enough to raise issues in a reactive manner, and add them straight to the Kanban board.

By removing the meeting entirely and only running it when there were three items for discussion on the board, the team were able to be more productive but continue to make important changes to the process when it was necessary.

Making peace

I'm not saying that ALL meetings are unnecessary. Quite the opposite.

But next time you have an important decision to make or need to arrange a meeting, think about the following.

  1. Is this meeting absolutely, definitely necessary?
  2. What is the purpose of the meeting and what do you need the end result to be?
  3. Who are the main influencers in reaching this point?
  4. What do we need to talk about to get to this result?

If you ask yourself these questions and make the answers clear to everyone who joins, you'll make decisions faster and avoid disrupting the team.

In Layman's terms, you'll be slicker and quicker (with no stripper).