How to avoid status meetings

How to avoid status meetings

Meeting culture is that ubiquitous pest that stains corporate life. Middle managers often have their agenda covered with back-to-back meetings like some kind of twisted mosaic. And in these days of Agile voodoo and open offices, developers tend to get dragged into the swamp as well.

Meetings can be effective means of communication and sometimes are the best way to make a decision. Most of the time, they are absolutely pointless.

There is one type that stands out. The quicksand where productivity goes to die. The status meeting.

What is a status meeting?

An effective meeting is where the smallest possible group gets together to make one decision. Teams delegate the task to a select few and carry on. There are three people in a room and only one agenda item: it doesn’t get more efficient.

A status meeting is the exact opposite. It’s all-hands. There is no decision to be made. It’s a large group of everyone dropping what they were doing and deciding on nothing.

So, how do we avoid status meetings?

Let’s start with the obvious: status meetings are always organised by managers. Why? Boredom, fear and tradition.

Boredom

When I was a project manager and worked with a good team, I was bored half the time. While those that do the work were being productive, I sat at my desk waiting. The temptation to organize something is real. A refinement session. A quick demo. Maybe an improved JIRA workflow? The problem is that I always needed input in the form of dragging productive people into a conference room.

If you’re a manager and your team is doing well, let them be. Resist the temptation to organize stuff. If you’re that bored, see if you can manage an additional team.

Fear

Are we on track? Should I be doing something? Are there any problems I’m unaware of? Ask a senior developer how far along the project is and she’ll give you an answer. Ask a manager that question and he’ll take it to the team. Non-technical managers are clueless about what’s actually going on. Wanting to control something you don’t understand is scary and fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to just-a-quick-get-together-to-see-where-we-are.

Taking away fear is where a senior dev can shine. If your manager is so insecure about the progress that she feels she has to call a meeting, you’ve acted too late.

“Ticket A-123 is blocked, but we are picking up A-456. We’ll refine A-123 on Tuesday.”

“We have seen the P1 incident and are working on it. We’ll inform you at 13h”

Communicate clearly and often. If your manager can trust your feedback, she’ll feel supported. If not, she’ll fire up her Outlook Calendar…

Tradition

Managers that join a new organisation inherit a tradition of meetings. There is a Steer Co every Monday. And a status briefing on Friday. We do Scrum, so that’s half of your week booked. When starting in a new organisation, you don’t have Tabula Rasa. Just like you don’t refactor the entire front-end on your fist day, you don’t break the tradition. You pick up and continue the meeting culture of your predecessors.

If tradition is the root cause, be bold enough to ask the obvious questions.

“We know what to work on this week. Can we skip the stand-ups?”
“How about we replace the demo with a newsletter?”
“Do all of us really need to attend?”

Since most organisations suffer from meeting obesity, productivity comes from cutting out the useless meetings. In every team, someone should take up that kind of leadership. Ask the tough questions. Challenge the status quo. Why are we having this meeting? What is the main driver and can we take it away? Have the guts to be vocal about it.

The best teams have no status meetings.

Cutting out just one is a big step in the right direction.