Running an Effective Meeting

How many people out there think they need to spend more time in meetings?

Most of the software engineers I’ve worked with say that meetings are the biggest time-waster in their day.  In part, this is because many meetings are inefficient and unproductive.

How can we make meetings more effective?

1. Stick to your start time

If your meetings always start five minutes late, people will learn they don’t need to be there until five minutes after the scheduled time.  Even if you don’t have all participants in the room, start promptly on time.  They’re more likely to be on time for the next meeting, and you aren’t wasting the time of the good citizens who were there when the meeting was supposed to start.

2. Set an aggressive end time — and stick to it

It’s a known fact that work grows to fill the time allotted to get it done.  Meetings are the same way.  If you think you can accomplish your goals in fifteen minutes, plan a fifteen minute meeting.  If you’re not done by the end of fifteen minutes, schedule a follow-up meeting.  With the pressure of an end looming, people can often make decisions over which they’d otherwise dither for another hour.

3. Have a clear goal for a meeting

A clear goal is not “discuss the design of our authentication module.”  A clear goal is, “Determine what the key components of our authentication module will be, and assign the task of building out the API to a team member.”  Make sure everyone at the meeting has bought into the goal.

4. Only invite the people you need

Not every meeting needs to have every member of the team present.  A group of four will have an easier time making decisions than a group of twelve, both because consensus is easier to reach with fewer voices and because if everyone needs to fully understand a problem, more time will be spend covering old ground than moving towards new ground.  Think carefully about who really needs to be at your meeting, and invite only those people.

5. Curb unrelated conversations

If a conversation is not directly relevant to your meeting goal, it doesn’t belong at your meeting.  It is easy to distract ourselves with excessive information, and in meetings, this can prevent you from achieving your meeting goal.  If your goal is, “Identify our three major risk factors,” discussion of risk remediation for each proposed idea is not relevant.  If your goal is, “Determine which major classes are necessary for a new component,” discussing unit testing approaches is not relevant.  If your goal is, “Reach a consensus on unit testing goals and conventions,” talking about build schedules is not relevant.  All of these things may be important, and may deserve meetings of their own, but going down side paths makes it harder for everyone to keep the goal in mind.

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