One of the most common refrains that I hear when I help clients amp up their agility and ways of working is:
Whether it’s Scrum events or Kanban cadences, the reaction is always the same.
“We already have too many meetings”
“When will we have time to do real work?”
If I were to ask these people the following question,
What do you think their answer would be? What would be your answer?
I bet most of them and you would paint it grey. Drab, nondescript and boring grey. Some of you might even colour it black as in an endless “black hole”.
From its origin in the 14th century meaning “An act or process of coming together”, the word meeting has acquired, perhaps unfairly, some very negative connotations. Here is a list I’ve experienced:
- Interrupts real work
- Waste of time
- Bad news
- Low value
- Low ROI
- Too many
- Too long
- Too large
Why does the word “meeting” conjure up such negativity?
Perhaps it’s rooted in its very definition.
So, we meet to “come together”. Then what? What happens after we “come together”? If the meeting ends there with people coming together, standing or sitting around looking at each other with blank stares – that would be pretty ho-hum and awkward. That would look pretty grey if not downright black!
How might we add more vibrant colours to meetings?
Why not start with banishing the word “meeting”?
In Scrum, we don’t have “meetings”. We have “events” (formerly known as “ceremonies”). As an example,
- The Daily Scrum is not a status meeting.
- It’s an event run by the Scrum team for the team members to coordinate their work for the day.
- No need to wait for the Scrum Master to show up.
- And if there’s nothing to coordinate, then no need to continue the event.
In Kanban, we don’t have “meetings”. We have “cadences”. As an example,
- The Replenishment Meeting cadence involves the act of commitment.
- The team collaborates to decide what to select from a pool of options, commit to next, and to replenish the input buffer for the Kanban system.
- No need for one supreme being to decide for the team.
- The team can decide using an inclusive and engaging voting technique like dot voting.
Unlike the vanilla definition of meeting, Scrum events and Kanban cadences each have a specific purpose and agenda.
Purpose and agenda add focus and colour to meetings.
What else could we do to amp up meetings?
Here are seven (7) ideas:
- Get better at preparing for significant meetings. Significant in the sense of duration and number of attendees. Big Room Planning (BRP), Obeya or PI Planning meetings come to mind. Getting your backlogs in shape and your priorities aligned before the BRP will make a world of difference when you actually run the BRP sessions. As they say in carpentry – measure twice, cut once.
- Get better at building bridges. Bridges signify cooperation, collaboration and even shared goals. Imagine meeting with people who you’re already comfortable working with or at least familiar meet.
- Re-frame and transform “meetings” into “adventures” or “mobbing sessions” to #GetSh*tDone. Imagine getting real work done in the “meeting”. Introduce a speaking token into your next Daily Scrum or Daily Standup and watch the sparks fly.
- Amplify trust and dampen need-to-know all. The size of meetings often reflects the level of trust and transparency in the organization. Managers attending because they don’t trust what their people will say or commit to. Non-participants attending because it’s a) the only way to find out what’s going on or b) they have a fear of missing out. I’ve been in meetings where 95% of the air-time was owned by 5% of the attendees. The word “WASTE” comes to mind. If others really want to know what happened in the meeting, have them reach out to participants 1:1. As a last resort, consider recording the meeting for non-participants but, only if a) it won’t stifle openness and b) participants consent to being recorded.
- “Prioritize visibility over reporting”. A concept from Disciplined Agile and Lean Governance that values real-time automated dashboard metrics reporting over status meetings and static traffic light status reports. I would extend this to include going to see for yourself at the gemba where the people are doing their work versus asking people to come into a meeting.
- Eliminate “double steering”. Double steering is a term I learned from Riina Hellström at a meetup. Most organizations have an existing set of meetings to plan, organize and coordinate work. It’s no wonder people react adversely when you suggest adding another set of agile meetings on top of that. Even if you refer to them as events or cadences. Better to figure out how to replace or repurpose existing meetings with agile events or cadences.
- Extreme attendee participation. In the spirit of Training from the Back of the Room, invite attendees to facilitate the meeting. If nothing else, it’ll wake them up from their stupor!
And here are a couple of bonus ideas.
In Jonathan Haidt’s book, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion”, he introduced the idea of a “Hive Switch”. A way to activate a desire for something larger than ourselves over self interest.
There are a number of ways to flip this hive switch within people. A couple of them may help amp up and add colour to boring meetings.
- Awe in Nature. Being out in nature for a walk or just staring at the stars can often settle my mind and change my perspective on things. Why not apply this to meetings and change the venue. Could you imagine what holding a meeting in the forest amongst tall pines and the chirping of birds could do for engagement during your meeting?
- Hallucinogenics. Using psychedelic drugs, natural or otherwise is another way to flip that hive switch. I’m not suggesting we start serving magic mushrooms or peyote to liven up meetings. What you can do is ‘bring food’.
In the book, another concept that holds promise for adding colour to meetings is “collective effervescence” – a term coined by Émile Durkheim.
According to Durkheim, a community or society may at times come together and simultaneously communicate the same thought and participate in the same action. Such an event causes collective effervescence which excites individuals and serves to unify the group.
With that in mind, I propose we change the definition of meeting.
“An act or process of coming together”