Oscar Funes' Blog

Personal lessons from trying to improve meetings

February 04, 2019

There’s always this meme circling around offices, you know the one. A ribbon which says: I Survived Another Meeting That Should Have Been An Email.

I always wonder why people fear (or dread) so many meetings. They always seem this ineffective use of time for everybody. And while I’ve personally been on a few meetings that I would call productive.

I still think that they are beneficial when trying to gather and reach a consensus for a given topic. The added difficulty I’ve had is remote attendants.

While I’m not a perfect “meeting attendee”, I’ve come to realize some mistakes I’ve made in previous meetings where we reached nothing, and everybody left with more doubts than answers.

Define a moderator

Once I had the problem where someone told me to plan a meeting for a group of people that wanted to give closure to a problem that had been deferred for too long.

So, I did as I was told and invited everyone, got a meeting room and when the time came. Everybody (even the one who asked me to book a meeting) expected me to guide the conversation. Something which I naively didn’t expect to do, so I wasn’t prepared.

After that, when somebody asked me to book a meeting, I assume that I would be the one moderating the meeting. So I prepare an agenda and have an idea of the topic to discuss.

Have an agenda

While this is the type of thing that sounds logical, most of the time doesn’t seem to happen.

Having an agenda and giving context to everyone involved is really important not to lose the first 10 minutes explaining and to make sure everyone understands the reason they’re all gathered. And if your meeting is of 30 minutes, you already lost a third of the time.

Making sure everyone understand the problem, makes it clear why they’re invited and to think of suggestions previous to the meeting. Or give other aspects to the context.

Invite as few people as possible

This makes me think of Occam’s razor

More things should not be used than are necessary.

Don’t invite so few that it’s not possible to reach a consensus without some comments like: “We should have invited X or Y.”

But don’t invite so much that’s impossible to reach an agreement. I once was invited to a meeting that had 5 invitees but was forwarded so much time that a different meeting had to be booked for 15 people.

As you would have guessed, nothing happened because not everybody had a complete context of the meeting, they just they for some magical reason that they had to be present.

Don’t book them 5 minutes before the time

I think some of us have lived this, where a random invite just pops up in your outlook reminders. While sometimes I negate to such invitations, sometimes I’ve felt guilty and attend them ever perpetuating such behavior.

There’s also when mid-meeting somebody says, we should have invited X o Y person. And the stand-up and go looking for him, and that person shows up! So now you have to explain previous minutes to that person. And history repeats again.

This is one of the hardest I’ve found to avoid since you can be the person canceling all last minute meetings. But eventually, if the culture around you is like that, you’ll end up being the jerk.

Conclusion

For meetings, we should try our best to keep them with few people as required, keeping it as on topic as possible through the usage of agendas, giving all the context you know and not letting them drag on forever.

Always send as complete meeting notes as you can. Always try to ask important questions that people ask and hopefully work to conclude something during the meeting.


I love distributed systems, software architecture, emotional intelligence and how they intersect.