[Opinion] Guidelines for Effective Meetings

Engineering

Learn from our challenges and triumphs as our talented engineering team offers insights for discussion and sharing.

[Opinion] Guidelines for Effective Meetings

Engineering

Meetings can be an effective way to discuss projects and reach consensus on decisions. But I believe when ran improperly, they can also be a huge waste of our valuable time. Hence, we should have some guidelines on how to create and run effective meetings.

Meetings are about discussions

The whole reason we get a lot of people into a room together is so they can discuss things. If a meeting isn’t filled with discussions but instead involve a few people talking at the rest of the group then it’s an ineffective meeting. Whoever is hosting the meeting should pay attention to the level of discourse and do what they can to facilitate more discussion. This includes asking quiet participants for their input and reigning in anyone who’s dominating the discussion. If a recurring meeting doesn’t generally include lots of discussion from all participants then it’s a bad meeting and needs fixing.

People need to be prepared to discuss things: use an agenda

There’s nothing worse than walking into a meeting not even knowing what you’re there to discuss. Meetings in which people need to get up to speed before discussing the topic are an inefficient use of our valuable time. Instead, meetings should have a clear agenda associated with them so that everyone comes to the meeting prepared to discuss the topic(s). When applicable, the meeting agenda should include links to related documents so people can read up ahead of time.

Avoid presentations

I believe written communication is superior to presentations and I’ll write more on that topic later. For now you can read about why Amazon banned presentations and replaced them with reports. When presentations are necessary, the slides should be included in the agenda so people can be prepared to discuss the materials. IMO, all presentations should at least reference written materials to ensure the content is clearly documented in a format that can be consumed without requiring the presenter.

Meetings are an inefficient vehicle for updates and announcements

How can we discuss an update or an announcement if we’re just learning of it during the meeting? If we want to efficiently discuss these things then we need to know about them ahead of time. Share updates ahead of the meeting, I recommend a per-a-team spreadsheet, so people can be prepared to discuss them. Occasionally, there will be major announcements that will need to be discussed at the time of announcement (e.g., an acquisition) and these will be deferred to the meeting. These should be rare.

Make meetings as small as possible

It’s hard to for twenty people to engage in a discussion. Make the group as small as possible to facilitate as much discussion as possible. If other people just need to be aware of the outcome of the meeting then update them over email or slack. If major decisions result from the meeting then they should be documented so other people can reference them. If anyone isn’t critical to a meeting, mark them as optional so they can decide whether to attend based on the agenda of topics to discuss.

End meetings early when the discussion slows

If people don’t have things to discuss then give them back some of their valuable time and end the meeting.