Every day, when my husband returns from work, I ask him “How was your day?” Most of the time, he shrugs, and says something like, “Urrggghhh – so many meetings – I didn’t get ANY work done.” I’ve no idea what he does, but his LinkedIn profile tells me he “attends meetings and adds value.”
But meetings ARE work. They are an important part of the collaborative process, and one that the Scrum framework recognizes and formalized.
According to MeetingKing, 11 million meetings occur in the US every business day, and waste $37 billion in lost time each year. Maybe you are in a boring meeting right now, reading this.
Patrick Lencioni’s fable, “Death by Meeting,” hits the nail on the head:
“Bad meetings, and what they indicate and provoke in an organization, generate real human suffering in the form of anger, lethargy, and cynicism. We typically complain we have too many meetings, but the real issue is that the meetings normally aren't very effective.”
That doesn’t sound very agile, does it?
Lencioni cites the problem as twofold. Meetings generally lack:
Drama or conflict
Frustration is inevitable when “little is decided as participants have a hard time figuring out whether they are supposed to be debating, voting, brainstorming, weighing in or just listening.”
Why Are We So Bad at Meetings?
We are failing our Scrum Masters. They are our anointed servant leaders, coaches, and facilitators. How inspiring! However, we rarely tell them HOW to fulfill those roles. There is a general overemphasis on process and technology, and an under-emphasis on leadership skills.
I have a recurring daydream, where I decline every single meeting on my calendar. Eventually, if I’m really needed, I’ll be contacted again. Bliss! I’ve learned that this isn’t the most emotionally intelligent way of dealing with meeting overload.
David Grady’s humorous take on organically seeding good meeting etiquette is a great primer, especially when you have no idea what the meeting is about:
You don’t HAVE to accept every meeting you are invited to – use the “tentative button.”
Talk to the organizer, and let them know you are excited to support their work. Ask what their goal is and how you can help.
If you do this often and respectfully enough, maybe people will become more thoughtful about putting meetings together.
The Difference Between In-Person and Virtual Meetings
While I was attending an advanced agile scaling class a few years ago, the instructor stated, “at scale, Scrum won’t work if you have distributed teams – they must be co-located.” Always one that likes to debate, I sent out a “thought balloon” to see how it would be shot down. I was curious.
“Do you think that 16 years after the Agile Manifesto and its principles were written, technology has changed enough to update the idea that ‘the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation?’”
“NO!” was the emphatic response, followed by a couple of slick and funny YouTube videos highlighting the problems with conference, or worse, VIDEO conference calls.
I had to admit I agreed with him. Today’s modern communication software does not replace face-to-face conversation, but the reality is that the majority of teams are moving to this type of dispersed work.
Whatever the latest technology du jour is, it will not replace the fact that you can learn how to facilitate better.
So what can we do to make the meetings suck less?