No More Meetings?

When I help organizations learn, struggle through and embrace Agile ways of working, I inevitably hear the following sharp rejoinder from staff and management alike:

“We don’t want more meetings!”

Usually, as a result of introducing Scrum events or Core Hours to teams.

It’s often a telltale sign that I have much work to do. Starting with a benefits and barriers workshop (aka meeting 😂).

The word “meeting” is defined as “an act or process of coming together”. Harmless enough. However, in the world of work, the word is often associated with waste and other negative connotations. The mere mention of the word conjures up images of lost productivity, inconvenience, and boredom in many of us. No wonder people bristle at the word. Who in their right mind, would want more of that?

How did meetings get such a bad rap?

It’s John Cleese’s fault.

Meetings v1.0: Meetings, Bloody Meetings

Back in 1976, John Cleese produced a short corporate training film called Meetings, Bloody Meetings. In it, John Cleese plays the role of a hapless middle manager consumed by meetings – continuously attending them or chairing them. It’s an uproariously hilarious, comedic take on all that can go wrong with meetings. Unclear objectives, no agenda, lack of planning and preparation, absentee or inattentive attendees, no minutes, no decisions, no outcomes and no follow-up. It was the gold standard in the 80’s and 90’s for training how not to run effective meetings. I never tired of watching it or having employees watch it. It was over-the-top hyperbole but rooted in reality. Poorly run meetings were soul-sucking brutal.

Meetings v2.0: Standardized Scripted Meetings

By the end of film, John Cleese’s character has learned what it takes to run efficient and effective meetings:

  1. Plan: Clear objectives and agenda
  2. Inform: Attendees aware of what, why and goals
  3. Prepare: Sequence of and connection between agenda items along with time allocations
  4. Structure and control: Guide the discussion, look for evidence, interpretation and action
  5. Summarize and record: Minutes capturing decisions and assigned actions

This is the classic traditional definition of a “good” meeting. The majority of traditional meetings I, and I would presume most of you, have ever attended were run using this recipe. Scripted and sanitized. It may not be soul-sucking but the formality of it all tends to lack soul. And, no one ever willingly volunteers to be the scribe or minute-taker.

Meetings v3.0: Human Masterpieces

I’ve discovered that if I use any other word than meeting, to describe a reason for bringing together people, the chances of a positive response go way up. Such is the negativity attached to the word meeting.

Me: “No, it’s not a meeting, It’s a working session”

Manager: “Oh. I see. Then that’s ok.”

How could we add soul to the act or process of coming together?

  • Start with the humans that come together. What are their needs? How can they actively engage 100% of their attention, brainpower and creativity?
  • Nurture psychological safety, equal voice and the power of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
  • Change the script and structures. Be prepared to let go of the agenda if that’s what the moment most needs.
  • Enable collective accountability for the facilitation, decisions and outcomes.
  • Everyone gets to take away one meaningful key result or insight that moves their work and life forward.

What if Meetings v3.0 is about #nomoremeetings ?

Instead of meetings, we would have “autonomous, collaborative co-creation events”?

What could that look like? Here’s some real-world examples:

  • Scrum Events
  • Kanban Cadences
  • Core Hours
  • Open Space Technology
  • Obeya or Big Room Planning
  • Design Sprints
  • Lightning Decision Jams
  • Liberating Structures

The word “meeting” is nowhere to be found. It has disappeared.

In its place are humans coming together to create batch-of-one masterpieces.

And there’s nothing bloody about that.

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