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Making meetings great again

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Community, Continuous iteration, Cultural values, Simplicity

A PDS meeting

Everyone hates meetings. But meetings don’t have to be your nemesis. Whisper it, they can even be your friend.

Whoever I talk to, whatever their job, when I ask them about meetings I get a similar response. An eye-roll, a sigh, an outpouring of swear words to make your eyes water.

But meetings aren’t all bad.

The Geneva Convention feels worthwhile. Across Parliament Square was the first meeting of the UN. That’s done alright since. And, of course, let’s not forget When Harry Met Sally.

My point is, meetings can be good. Talking face to face, seeing reactions, responding to concerns, getting clarity on issues. They’re all really important.

Meetings are people

I’ll shock you here. You might hate meetings, but a meeting is just a collection of people. You don’t hate meetings, you hate peop…maybe you don’t hate anything.

So if meetings are people and meetings are rubbish, why don’t the people do something about it?

PDS meetings

We’re a digital service so it follows that we’re all very digital. We’ve got laptops, tablets, mobiles. And we’re all busy so we use those devices to send that quick email or to run through that draft before sending it off to a colleague. All while we’re in a meeting.

But as people do this they disengage and meetings drag on which just results in longer meetings. This diminishes the value of a meeting that people already didn’t want to be in. Or even leads to another meeting that people don’t want to be in.

Running late

So people become even less interested. They turn up late. Maybe they miss an important point. Maybe the people who turned up on time spent ten minutes waiting to start.

Meetings then start to get cancelled at the last minute. Or people just don’t turn up ‘so they can actually get some work done.’

This approach seems to get rewarded because when someone misses a meeting and realises they didn’t actually miss anything, they’re unlikely to go to the next one.

If one person doesn’t show, someone else then decides it’s not worth their time.

It’s a cultural thing.

Meetings are social. We watch how people in the organisation have them and we do something similar.

It becomes habit.

Breaking bad habits

If bad meeting habits are the fault of people then people can fix them. How lovely.

We’ve got a lot of talented people working at Parliament. I’ve met a lot of them. We’re not a maniacal lot. No one wants to run a bad meeting.

Iterate. Small changes will have a big impact. It’s the same reason I rinse out a hummus pot and recycle it rather than lobbing it in the bin. It might feel like a drop in the ocean but it will make a difference.

What we can do

If you’re invited to a meeting:

  • but don’t think you need to be there, say something
  • which has overrun and you’ve got somewhere to be, be there
  • ask yourself, ‘do I need to take my laptop?’ or ‘do I need to use my phone?’
  • give feedback. You can still join me in the kitchenette for a moan after but the feedback’s more likely to help

If you’re organising a meeting:

  • think, ‘is this point on topic? Or can we hear about Tim’s shed when we’re back at our desks?’
  • think about timings. If your meeting overruns people may need to be somewhere else. If it's too short they may have needlessly cancelled other plans to be there
  • tell people what it’s about and what they should expect to get out of it
  • ask for feedback
  • think about who needs to be there. Only invite those that do
  • ask, ‘is that recurring meeting invite still needed?’

If only ten people read this and do one of the above, we’ll start having more productive meetings.

But those are just my thoughts. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the meeting culture?

If you’ve tried one of the above, did it work? What happened? Let me know in the comments.

I want people to look at our meetings and think: “I’ll have what they’re having.”

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