This post originated from an email I sent to the company. It’s posted below verbatim as the team received it.
Do you like my headline? If it made you read this I won! :)
Meetings are critical to our operations, but very easily become a paralyzing force on the very productivity that is the life blood of this company. I write some variation of this email every year or so, and I got triggered today!
Kiril’s rules for meetings
- Avoid them
- can you walk over and talk to someone rather than calling a meeting?
- are you just making an announcement that can be done over Slack or Email?
- Make them short
- you almost never need an hour: 15 minute meetings often suffice
- Run them well
- have a specific goal for every meeting
- prepare an agenda
- stick to your timeframe and your topics and get out of the room
- send out notes at the end (or post them somewhere like Trello or Slack)
- Invite fewer people
- justify to yourself every additional person
- can someone “critical” just send notes?
- can you have a busy person represented by a delegate?
- Don’t use them to make decisions
- use them to gather feedback, ideas, or status across a team
- use them to generate alignment (a shared perspective on something)
- AVOID THE AFTERNOONS
I care deeply that we try hard to preserve the afternoons for productive individual or group work. That means not scheduling meetings in the post-lunch-to-5pm-ish timeframe, and REALLY avoiding 2-5pm. NOTE: there’s a big difference between a meeting that’s entirely within a team, during that timeframe, if that team needs to congregate to move forward, and a meeting that spans teams. The former is often useful and makes sense, the latter is much more destructive.
Q: What if I can only assemble the full group during productive hours? A: This is usually a lie. Make sure the absolute core can make it, and have others send notes or a delegate and receive notes at the end.
Q: What if I don’t know the agenda in advance? A: If you’re calling a group into a meetings, try really hard to know what you’re going to talk about first. The worst thing ever is 10 people (20% of our company) in a room accomplishing nothing for an hour. The best companies have strong culture around this.
Q: But isn’t a meeting here & there in the afternoon ok? A: We have 50 people here. If everyone here scheduled 1 meeting per month in the afternoon, that’s more than 1 per day. See Paul Graham’s post on how destructive that pattern is to individual contribution (his post is about engineering, but I think it applies to anyone who has meaty, difficult work to do).
Q: How are decisions made if not in meetings? A: The person directly responsible for a mission or a functional area makes final decisions, after consultation with everyone necessary. Decisions made by committee just generally suck, and it’s worth looking at things like the RA(S)CI model to understand who has what role in a project. Meetings are a great way to disseminate a decision and get everyone aligned about it, though.
Q: What if I really need all these people, and I have no other choice but schedule during maker time? A: OK, so this happens. If you’re stuck with a bad time, consider if you can put it off by a few days and find a better time (many things aren’t as urgent as they seem). And if you have to schedule it:
- make it as short and clear as possible
- try to book time at the very beginning or very end of the day to reduce the amount of impact
Q: What if my team is blocked and needs a meeting to move forward? A: If a given team needs to convene, without inviting people from other teams, then they should do it, for as long as necessary, whenever necessary. HOWEVER: the best way to operate is to plan for that in advance, use stand-ups to surface blocking issues early in the day and address them before lunch, and think through your plan such that you’re less likely to hit massive roadblock/bubble. And if your “it’s just my team” meetings starts slowly pulling in other people because “well, we need so-and-so because they have an opinion” then you’re in the business of killing everyone else’s productivity again.
If you think you would do things differently, I’m all ears - as long as we are pushing toward preserving productivity and meaningful results as an organization, I can (and regularly do) change my dogma. :)