We tend to have meetings whether there is anything new to report or not. If we do have something new to report and it’s positive, that item is often postponed until the end of the meeting, as good news takes a lower priority. Other times, such news is acknowledged hastily before moving on to the next project’s risk-turned-issue—a relic of the “management by exception” mentality.
Many of us attend meetings in the event that a question comes up about our own work, ready to assume defensive posturing. When no such question arises, we are often relieved to be “flying under the radar.” When questions do arise, we may feel attacked or unprepared. We leave the meeting with more questions to answer than when we walked in.
And of course, some meetings feature a “death by PowerPoint” set of slides that someone thought was really important for attendees to know. The speaker has adhered to every possible tenet of an uninspiring presentation:
- Too many slides that are rushed and lead to minimal absorption, or too few slides that convey very little of the vocalized substance
- Ambiguity and disconnects in content
- A monotonous presentation style where every slide looks exactly the same
- No engagement of the audience
- Failed attempts at humor and intellectual stimulation
This short list of meeting miseries may be due to historic, stale rules and recommendations for conducting a meeting: use an agenda, start and finish on time, stay focused, track action items.
Why Have Meetings?
Rather than rehabilitate our meetings, why not do away with them entirely? Eliminating meetings to increase work time is commonly relished by time-boxed teams, even portrayed as evidence of learning in some cases. However, such a philosophy is antithetical to agile collaboration, cooperation, and cross-functional growth.
Instead of discontinuing meetings, you need to change what people are getting out of them. People expect value from their time investment. Granted, the value may be a respite from the daily pace of work, or it may be a refresh on the importance of their work, or the feeling that they are part of something greater. Whether they get to contribute directly to that vision or just get to hear about it, the value likely translates into energy and excitement about their own work. In addition, teams usually have a better understanding of how their contributions are manifested in the future of the company.
Setting aside value, the mere existence of meetings may invite participants to communicate and feel more belonging as team players. The interactions that build relationships among collaborative team members often occur in the very meetings we tend to dread.
Agile teams are dependent on collaboration and face-to-face convenings. And agile teams are on the rise. According to a 2020 report from the World Economic Forum about emerging professions of the future, in the category of product development, three of the top 10 jobs of tomorrow apply to agile teams, and specifically Scrum teams: product owners (first), agile coaches (third), and ScrumMasters (tied for sixth).
Meetings, whether in stakeholder groups, smaller team meet-ups, or even one-on-one ad hoc interactions, consume a substantial portion of our work time. Ensure these engagements include an exchange of value, and they are less likely to be viewed as unworthy of one’s time.
New Rules for Virtual Meetings
This can be difficult even in person, but there’s an additional set of recommendations for remote meetings. The recent surge in virtual meetings necessitates an entirely new set of desirable behaviors.
Remind participants of the importance of being ready at the scheduled start of the meeting. Repeated tardiness can be perceived as indifference toward one’s team. Another detriment is the utilization of time to repeat what’s already been covered to bring the “delinquent attendee” up to speed. This behavior is more prevalent when the late attendee is of positional authority outside the team. Everyone being ready when they should be communicates respect for others’ time.
Ensure that all equipment, connections, and supporting tools enable the audio, video, and sharing of content. Unresolved technical difficulties disrupt productivity and collaboration. While our teams are often delivering technical solutions, it’s especially ironic that we stumble on the easy stuff like audio and video competency.
Show up at meetings—emphasis on the “show.” Attendees avoid participating with video on. Common excuses include it’s too early, I’m not camera-ready, my office is a mess. What’s the point of meeting face to face if there are no faces? Refer to the sixth principle of the Agile Manifesto: The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
Be present. That means being actively engaged, in order to increase collaboration and communication among team members. How many times have you heard a team member who has been asked a question respond with, “Could you repeat that? I was multitasking.” Actually, they weren’t; multitasking is the ability to do more than one thing concurrently, which clearly they were not. Ignore your other work, mute notifications, and put down your phone while others are present and participating.
It’s also a good idea for the meeting organizer to be able to transfer presenter rights to any participant as needed. When the meeting owner is absent, some capabilities, like desktop sharing, can be impaired further, decreasing any potential value.
Keep Value Delivery First
Value delivery is at the core of the first agile principle. The perception of value is often deeply rooted in the cultural norms of the organization. We should all remain mindful of value delivery—in products, services, and even meetings. Attendees deserve it.
When you focus on value, people may even start looking forward to meetings. It could happen.