Analytical 18: Meetings

8 September, 2017


Meetings can be valuable, but they can also be a huge waste of time. What kind of meetings will you hold?

Transcript available
[Music] Everything can be improved, iterated and refined and if you don't think that's true, maybe you haven't analyzed it enough. Calculated choices carefully considered. Absolutely analytical. Analytical is part of the Engineered Network. To support our shows, including this one, head over to our Patreon page and for other great shows visit today. Meetings. Oh my god, I get pulled into so many damn meetings. And the concept of a meeting, if you really want to break it down, the definition of a meeting is something like an assembly of people for a particular purpose, especially for a formal discussion. Yeah, pretty much that. But the problem is that people have a lot of different reasons for having meetings. So, I thought I might pull together a short list. It's probably not an exhaustive one, but it's a start. So, let's start at the top. To disseminate information to a group of people, or as a participant in such a meeting, to gain information from one or more people that you're interested in learning about. You can have a meeting to get feedback from other people on a proposal or an idea that you might have that you want to develop and that their feedback will help to develop that idea or that proposal. You have meetings to obtain some kind of a consensus or an agreement on one or more decisions that you're facing or your team's facing or the business or organization's facing. I suppose people sometimes have meetings because they're lonely. I mean, you know face-to-face contact and all that human beings building relationships and all that other soft skills stuff that they go on about that you know *sigh* Touchy-feely stuff anyway, hopefully not physically anyway because having a meeting and talking can also feel like work And it's not necessarily and some people just have meetings because they're like oh, I'm in a meeting up there. I'm working hard and it's like Yeah, are you anyway alright? So there's a couple of bugbears of mine, you probably couldn't tell, that really, really annoy me about meetings. And yeah, isn't gonna be pretty, but here we go. Meetings with no clear agenda. Like, why are we all here? Let's take five minutes to talk about why we're here. Great, good, lovely, fantastic, wasting my time already. Meetings that require a consensus, but they fail to have the minimum quorum of specific people present. So let's all make a decision, but we're not gonna invite the following people or the other people didn't show up, but we'll go ahead anyway. Recurring meetings for fixed time events and they're either held well prior or well after, they're actually gonna be useful or effective. You know, so like there's a project that goes for six months and the early formative stages when you're getting funding or just getting the first parts of it organized, We're gonna start having regular weekly meetings, even though no one's done anything and we're still waiting to get funding, but we're gonna have meetings anyway and then after the project's over, well, we're gonna have some meetings so we can do the tidy up and follow up and the clean up and everyone's gone. Okay, so then of course there's meetings with a tight focus and a quorum, but then they're forwarded or delegated to irrelevant parties. Trying to keep it tight, people, stop inviting it to your friends 'cause they're bored. Meetings with an excessive input from an unqualified or uninvited individual. Kind of related to the last one, but honestly, sometimes people come to these meetings and they're unqualified to have an opinion. It's like, I really, really don't like the way that this, the cross-sectional area, this I-beam is insufficient to support the load in this building. So, yeah, really? And what's your degree in? Oh, I just, I do pottery. Oh, cool, great. Hmm, okay then, moving on. Meetings with no clear chair. And I don't mean when you're sitting, obviously, I mean someone who's actually running the meeting, like an organizer or something, someone who's there to just manage that whole side conversation thing that happens. So you're sitting there, you're trying to stay focused, let's keep moving people, yada, yada, yada. And there's side conversations with some guy criticizing something that some other guy said once about something and you're like, please stop talking, we're trying to be focused. And if there's no chair, there's no organizer, no one shuts it down and they just keep on going. And I guess that whole thing is meetings aside, conversations about the topic that's being discussed during the meeting. But it's not part of the meeting. It's just part of a side meeting that's in the same room. And it's like, oh, God. Anyway, meetings where there are no notes or minutes taken or if they are, they aren't distributed. So I remember having this meeting about six months ago where we said a whole bunch of stuff, but no one ever wrote it down. So I guess maybe it didn't happen. You know, go to Humphrey Applebee on them, you know, and say like, and that's a yes minister reference anyhow but the point is you know if it's not in the minutes then it didn't happen basically so having a meeting where there are no minutes if there's a decision made you may as well not have bothered. Dear me anyway so meetings really honestly they can be a very very good thing but they need to be born out of an actual need and preferably having some kind of deterministic business need or requirement. If you're busy figuring out why you're in a meeting, when you're actually in it, you've pretty well completely screwed it up already. So if I had to give advice on how to run an effective meeting, well, it's subtly different, but there's three major types of meetings. There's disseminative, there's feedback, and there's a decision meeting. So broadly speaking, we'll look at each of those, and here's how I think you could make it more effective. So we're starting with a disseminative meeting, whereby we're going to present a whole bunch of information to a bunch of people and disseminate that information. Okay, go on. So provide an agenda with a basic set of information beforehand. Make sure you're careful who you invite. If you have slides, basic slides only, if you can in advance, but don't bring hard copies of those and make sure people don't open their laptops or use their smartphones or tablets to look at those slides because you need to engage with the people in the room and make sure they're paying attention to you, not reading the slides while you're talking off into space. They need to be respecting your time. And conversely, if you stay on point, you'll respect their time. So don't wander off topic. And if there are side topics that people wanna explore, just quickly go around the room and find out. Ask them, you wanna explore that now as a group? And if not, take it outside, Take it outside the meeting and address it afterwards, only with those people that actually care, 'cause most people in the room probably don't. Stick to your time limit. If you book half an hour, keep it to half an hour. Don't just go on endlessly unless it's worth the topic, if it's really, really getting results. So stick to your time limit. Respecting other people, right? Respect their time. Pass around the fully detailed notes, if you have them, only after the meeting's finished, 'cause that keeps the people in the room focused on you and what you're trying to tell them. And that just, again, it respects everyone's time. So that's disseminative meetings. So feedback meetings, where you're trying to get feedback on something. So provide an agenda with a basic set of information that you're seeking feedback and input on before the meeting. And make sure you're careful who you invite and ensure that they're key stakeholders with input to the documentation or whatever it is you're seeking that feedback on. If the key people you want feedback from aren't there, Then be prepared to hold another meeting afterwards that catches only those people that were able to make it. Stay on point and make sure that you get the feedback on the specific items you wanted to. Again, respect everyone's time, meaning if there's side topics to explore, do that after the meeting with those, only those that are interested. Keep detailed notes about who made which key points about what specifically. You might need a scribe to take those notes so you can focus on running the meeting in the first place. And again, stick to the time limit, respect people's time. Create detailed minutes afterwards and mark up on the document or documents or whatever you've got that you're getting feedback on. Any of that feedback needs to be captured somewhere. After the meeting, distribute that to anyone who has attended and copy those that couldn't make it but might be impacted by the result. And encourage the attendees to review those updates in minutes, but give them a set time that they have to respond for their feedback while it's still fresh in their minds. The last kind is the decision one, which is probably the most tricky. Again, provide an agenda with the materials relating directly to the decision needing to be made beforehand, and make sure you're careful who you invite, and ensure that they're key stakeholders in either making the decision, or are directly or perhaps indirectly impacted by that decision. they need a chance to state their case. And make sure people don't open their laptops or use their smartphones or tablets to keep them engaged with the other people in the room and make sure they're paying attention. 'Cause when the meeting starts, check for that quorum, that minimum quorum. It's not just raw numbers. The key decision makers or stakeholders you invited have to be there. And if they're not, it's better to defer the discussion until they're available than it is to just press ahead and risk rework of holding yet another meeting when they're available. Again, stay on point. Keep it on the topic of the decision you're trying to get a resolution for, the decision at hand, stay focused. If there are side topics to explore that have no bearing on the decision at all, then address those topics after the meeting, only with those people that care. Keep detailed notes about who made which key points and about what specifically, and you may need to ascribe once again to write that down 'cause you need to drive the meeting and stick to your time limit. Make detailed notes and minutes after the meeting and distribute those to those people that attended. Copy those that couldn't make it but are impacted by the decision. And again, encourage the people that were at the meeting to review the minutes. Set a time limit for their response and their comments while it's still fresh in their mind. Now it sounds a little bit repetitive. There are some common points. So what are the common points? Provide an agenda beforehand and stick to the agenda in its intent at least. It doesn't have to be in the same sequence. Maybe that's not the biggest issue, but as long as you actually make your way through the items on the agenda, be careful who you invite. And this one I've struggled with. I find, I try to make it clear to all the people that I send the meeting to that forwarding the meeting onto others should not be done without first discussing it with the organizer first. Keep it tight, keep it focused. And remember, the right people in the room, not just a room of people. Staying on point and sticking to your time limit means you're respecting everyone's time. And if there are side topics to explore, keep them out of the meeting. They kill it. They kill the efficiency. Call it a parking lot, a non-meeting note space, an idea pit where off topic ideas fall into. Whatever, don't care. Just keep them out of the main topic of what you're trying to talk about and always take good notes wherever you can and distribute those minutes if decisions come from the meeting 'cause this will save your ass later. Time and again it will, trust me. So if you follow these points consistently, gradually you'll build a reputation for short, sharp, on-point meetings and that will build the respect for those that you work with. So what that means is that you may think, oh, big deal, but the truth is that people get to know the time wasters that are always organizing meetings. Let's have a meeting about this, let's have a meeting about that. And half your day is spent in meetings that add no value or very little value at least. So in the future, when people get to know that this is your style of how you run this, when you really need a critical meeting, people are gonna show up and they will be engaged 'cause they know that you're gonna stay on point. Funny thing is though, I guess if more people cared about the meetings that they had, there'd be less people that were annoyed with meetings, like me. Anyhow, never forget though, that for a business, everything comes back to money. Let's just, some random numbers, let's just throw them out there, see what we get. At $25 an hour, loaded labor rate, one hour meeting for four people costs $100, plus the cost of the room and four empty desks, because those four people that otherwise would have been at their desks doing work, aren't at their desks, they're in a meeting room. So you're really paying for even more space. But let's just take that out of it. Just think about the hourly rate to make it easier math. If you have one meeting like that every day, that's $500 a week. And that's about $25,000 a year. And that's just roughly in wages alone. So if those meetings aren't helping to make money for the business somehow, why are you having them? Why? And it's not just that either. It's the time to prepare the agenda, to book the room, to coordinate with the people that need to go. And then after the meeting it is, preparing the minutes, distributing the minutes, and handling any feedback from people reviewing those minutes. Every meeting needs a reason, a problem statement that it's trying to resolve. And if it's not achieving that, then it's probably a waste of time. So if you think you need to have a meeting, think really, really, really, really carefully, because maybe you really don't. If you're enjoying Analytical and wanna support the show, you can, like some of our backers, Ivan and Chris Stone. They and many others are patrons of the show via Patreon, and you can find it at or one word. Patrons can have a named thank you on a website, spoken at the end of episodes, access to pages of raw show notes for every episode, as well as an ad-free special release of every episode. There's a growing back catalogue now of re-edited episodes and a new making an episode tier if you're into that sort of thing, so there's something for everyone and if you'd like to contribute something, anything at all, it's all greatly appreciated. Analytical is part of the Engineered Network and you can find it at and you can follow me at [email protected] or for our shows on twitter @engineered_net. Accept nothing, question everything. always a good time to analyse something. I'm John Chidjie. Thanks for listening. (Music)
Duration 15 minutes and 43 seconds Direct Download

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John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

Described as the David Attenborough of disasters, and a Dreamy Narrator with Great Pipes by the Podfather Adam Curry.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.