Tag Archives: meetings

On Meetings

Contemplating how to lead without meetings , The Washington Post asks three equally qualified people for their views on them. Daisy Wademan Dowling, executive director of leadership development at an unnamed Fortune 500 company, responded with the following:

The real reason leaders end up in too many meetings? Because it’s flattering: having your presence “required” at many meetings makes you feel important — it’s tangible proof of how much your people and your organization need you. But being in too many meetings every day wreaks havoc on your schedule and your ability to focus on bigger goals. I’ve seen too many corporate leaders sacrifice their own strategic vision — and ultimately, their own performance — because they’ve let themselves become hostage to Conference Room B.

That comes via Robin Hanson of Overcoming Bias, adding,

Much of business process functions to signal who is important and who is allied with whom, rather than to actually get stuff done. Huge efficiency gains await the organizations that can figure out how to expunge these parasites.

Behavioural scientist Reid Hastie recently reflected about meetings and why they often are unproductive (via Kottke): it seems that one reason is our misperception of time.

As a general rule, meetings make individuals perform below their capacity and skill levels.

This doesn’t mean we should always avoid face-to-face meetings — but it is certain that every organization has too many meetings, and far too many poorly designed ones.

The main reason we don’t make meetings more productive is that we don’t value our time properly. The people who call meetings and those who attend them are not thinking about time as their most valuable resource.

Hastie offers three tips on conducting effective meetings:

  • The uninspired, Whoever calls a meeting should be explicit about its objectives.
  • The excellent, Everyone should think carefully about the opportunity costs of a meeting.
  • And the surprising, After productive or unproductive meetings, assign credit or blame to the person in charge.

Here are some further tips on how to prepare for a meeting with venture capitalist Brad Feld. I believe these tips can be generalised and broadly applied:

  • Search the web for me.
  • Figure out the one thing you want to communicate with me.
  • Don’t make our meeting an endless stream of Planet Feld references.
  • Have one thing in your head that you think I can learn from you.
  • Don’t ask me to sign an NDA.
  • Pay attention to time.

Scheduling and Non-Hierarchical Management

These two essays have been doing the rounds of late, and for good reason:

Paul Graham’s comparison between the schedules of Managers and the schedules of Makers (creatives). The gist? A manager’s day is divided into hour-long blocks of time, makers work in much longer, relatively unconstrained and non-discrete units of time. The problem is in making these two work together.

When you use [the manager’s schedule], it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done. […]

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

With the philosophy that a manager is more servant than dictator, Aaron Swartz offers tips for non-hierarchical management (via Kottke). This is specifically for startups, he suggests, where the tradition ‘org chart’ is flipped upside down, but these tips seem sound no matter what the organisation:

  • Management is a (serious) job
    • Stay organised
  • Know your team
    • Hire people smarter than you
    • Be careful when hiring friends
    • Set boundaries
  • Go over the goals together
    • Build a community
  • Assign responsibility
    • Vary responsibilities
    • Delegate responsibly
  • Clear obstacles
    • Prioritize
    • Fight procrastination
  • Give feedback
    • Don’t micromanage
  • Don’t make decisions (unless you really have to)
  • Fire ineffective people
  • Give away the credit
  • Few people are cut out for this