Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings: When Will I Ever Get Any Work Done?
I have yet to meet a technologist that believes that going to meetings is the best thing about their job.
In fact, most technologists hate meetings.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic pill that eliminates them all, but I do have some strategies to reduce them.
Why do we have meetings? At their simplest, meetings help us connect to shared objectives, they serve to work out hidden dependencies we may not have thought about, and they help get all of the meeting attendees (hopefully!) on the same page. Why is that bad? Those all sound like things we all want, so why do we hate meetings so much?
Business author Patrick Lencioni wrote in his book “Death by Meeting” that meetings were “…the most painful problem in business.” It is not just techs that are frustrated and fed-up with meetings: it is a feeling across all sections of organizations.
If everyone hates them, why are they so pervasive? Some days as an internal corporate IT staffer, all I did some days was go from meeting to meeting to meeting and never had the opportunity to get any actual work done.
But in the face of all that negativity, there are some things that you can do to reduce the number of meetings in your life.
One of the biggest sources of high-frequency meetings are project managers of initiatives we are assigned to work. At any one time, you might be tasked to work on more than a dozen projects. And most of them will have a different project manager. That is a LOT of meetings. (as a consultant, I often work on one project at a time, and after years of multi-project juggling it almost feels like a break!) Is it possible to reduce the number of meetings you have in this scenario? YES!
The majority of meetings that a project manager will schedule are status meetings. Status meetings are important because this is where the project manager gets the latest and greatest update on the project they are held responsible. I have several friends that are project managers — their job is stressful. Often, they are given (in my opinion) a disproportionate amount of responsibility for the delivery of a project and very little authority. Who gets blamed if that project doesn’t run well? The project manager. Who gets the blame if it goes over budget? The project manager. Who gets the blame if the technical people don’t get their tasks done and they make the project late? The project manager. That is a tough place to live every day! So, thinking about the project manager and the frustrating place they live, with little authority but a ton of responsibility, why do you think they conduct so many meetings?
I know, I know: some of you still think project managers have a secret desire to torture us with as many meetings as possible. But it’s really not true: they hold all of these meetings because they HAVE to stay connected to the pulse of a project or they risk having a project escape their control and turn into an abysmal failure. So, close your eyes. Seriously, this will help. Close your eyes and picture yourself being told by the CEO that YOU, and you alone, are responsible for the delivery of a project you’re currently working on. Think about what you know about what the other vital team members are working on and their current status. Is your mind pretty blank? You don’t know? Well in that case, how could you get that information? You could email them, but you won’t get the whole story and maybe you might not get a response at all from some of them. The acid in your stomach starts to move up your esophagus, and you think, “I better just call a meeting first thing tomorrow morning so I can get that status from all involved.” BOOM — now you see why so many meetings are called by project managers.
So, have you figured it out? The key to getting fewer meeting requests is to reduce the number of unknowns you’re floating out there! One of the most over-used phrases is (and yes, I find it quite ironic) the advice to “over-communicate.” The problem is with that advice is there really is no realistic way to over-communicate. I have never met someone that ever over-communicated anything. Sure, there have been many people that are guilty of TMI — sharing Too Much Information — but none that have ever over communicated.
I have seen technologists successfully navigate their way to fewer meetings. And the way they do that is to communicate their status on projects to all concerned continually. That is only nine words, ’communicate their status on projects to all concerned continually,’ but they are incredibly powerful. I can’t tell you how much people who have a stake in your work that you do will appreciate you if you adopt this rule. Your manager will love it, the project managers of every project you’re involved in (even tangentially) will adore you, and your customers will rave about your abilities to accomplish great things.