Meetings can easily be seen as a necessary evil, something as an individual you have to endure whilst as an organisation you have to initiate.
In a world of remote-working, this has been exacerbated, where before a quick chat over the coffee machine was enough, now a scheduled meeting needs to be created. Even in a small company like ours, time can quickly be absorbed in ‘important meetings’, and it feels like doing the work gets relegated to fitting in between scheduled calls. Let’s be clear, meetings are not ‘doing the work’, meetings should ‘enable the work’. So how can we address this issue? How can we ensure meetings are prioritised correctly and our team have time and space to produce quality work? In this post, I unpick how we aim to do this at Brightec.
I recently came across the phrase "Lead with context, not control".
It comes from the book “No Rules Rules”, the story of how Netflix manages their company whilst enabling a culture of creativity and innovation. It perfectly captures how we seek to lead our team at Brightec. We have very few policies, instead, we treat our staff as adults and encourage them to make good decisions for the company and for our clients.
It would be easy and perhaps natural to look at our staff team’s calendar and try to address the issue of meetings in a policy; outlining what meetings can be created for, for how long and at what time. This would however disempower individuals to make good choices, particularly as a policy can never cover all eventualities. We believe it is better to offer context to our team on why we want to address an issue and use some example guidance to illustrate how this might work in practice. I have given an overview of our ‘Brightec Meeting Guidance’ document below.
In the first part of our guidance document, we layout why having lots of meetings is an issue and how it relates to Brightec values. Specifically, we build on one of our values ‘Collective Responsibility’:
Every team member has a part to play. Understanding every area of the business helps us make better decisions, empathise with users and create outstanding products.
Following this and throughout the document, we aim to keep providing context for the guidance we are imparting. For example, we believe that it is important for our staff to understand how much a meeting costs, both to Brightec and (if we’re charging for it) to our clients. Providing this context, means our staff have a framework to make decisions on whether a meeting should go ahead and how long for.
We also identify that there are two types of meeting: relational and functional. Both have their specific purpose, making different behaviours appropriate for each.
The primary aim for these meetings is to build or strengthen relationships. These have become particularly important whilst everyone is working remotely. For Brightec this includes our Monday and Friday catchups, R&D kickoff meetings as well as new business and some client meetings.
We expect relational meetings would not necessarily have a fixed or agreed agenda in advance. Although sometimes we’ve found it does help conversation to have a vague agenda, these meetings will be more relaxed and generally take more time than Functional Meetings. We set the expectation to our team that this is fine as relationships are built and strengthened the more time that is spent together.
The majority of the meetings we have are purely functional. Examples would include sprint planning, project standups, estimating, proposal creation, project planning etc, as well as many client ‘catchups’. We set the expectation to our team that it is important to keep these meetings as efficient as possible, to ensure we deliver value to our clients and keep our billable time high.
If you are interested in this subject please don’t take the below and simply copy and paste into your own document. We hope they are useful examples, but every organisation should consider what guidance they provide to their team on this matter.
It is easier for a group to correct (even wholesale) a draft document than to start larger pieces of work from scratch ‘by committee’. Admittedly, this relies on the gathered team to be candid in their feedback and the author to hold lightly their work. But overall it will make for faster iteration and a quicker outcome.
Running efficient meetings is a skill and it takes a lot of practice to do it well. But what it also takes is a bunch of tools and activities to apply to each style of meeting. One book we regularly refer back to is Sprint by Jake Knapp. It's a practical guide to the Design Sprint process and running fast, high-value workshops and meetings is one of its core requirements.
We've really benefited from the activities it prescribes (many of which can also be found here: https://designsprintkit.withgoogle.com/). We hope you find it useful too.
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