Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Group projects

Meetings, MEETINGS, MEETINGS!!!  I hate meetings.  Or rather, I hate the fact that I have to do meetings.  Or perhaps I only dislike the types of meetings I've encountered so far.  "Standing meetings" seem to be all the rage.  Perhaps I'll try those.  Gimme a sec.

Ok, now my legs are tired and I still hate meetings.

In truth, what are meetings for?  Writing an exhaustively-researched list completely off the top of my head results in:

  • Announce stuff
  • Get buy in from other employees
  • Brainstorm

A quick Google search tells me that "the purpose of meetings is to coordinate action!"  Yeah, glad we got that one solved.  Meetings have a few key problems: People like to talk, there's usually little-to-no standard for structure or ending, and it's considered "impolite" to interrupt someone who's wasting everyone's time (especially if it's the CEO).

In fact, I'm starting to question if we need meetings at all.  Let's look at the four purposes above:
Announcements: Meetings might seem like a nice way to announce things until you consider the alternatives: Email (quick, easy, not distracting, difficult to ensure everyone reads it) and presentations [0] (Longer, can go into detail).
Buy in: If you (or your boss) feel(s) that you (they, ok, I'll stop now) need to discuss your decisions with your employees in order for them to feel included, you're an idiot.  Find a real way to include them.  Like letting them lead.  If you're looking for opposing viewpoints, people prefer to bring those up privately, instead of publicly in front of the staff.

Halfway through.  Phew.

Brainstorming: In the first draft of this article, I was going to posit that brainstorming was the one good reason for meeting.  Right?  Isn't that how it's supposed to be?  I mean, that's what they did all the way through school.
Then this article popped up on Hacker News.  Shoot.  As it turns out, we humans are better at coming up with creative ideas on our own than in groups.  So let's take a note from Rand's essay on The Twinge and say that meetings are good for taking those ideas and sanding off the rough edges.
Coordinate Action: Oh, give me a break.  There are many, many, ways to coordinate action in your particular organization other than meetings.  Half of this falls under "Announcements" and the other half under "superfluous planning."

I could be entirely wrong with this rant.  I'm still young, and have held only one real job in the industry (admittedly at a fairly bad company).  Tell me I'm wrong in the comments!

[0] Presentations differ in my opinion as they have a set goal/outline and are less prone to interruptions. Think Google's Friday presentation vs. your last staff meeting

Meetings for idea generation worthless because:

1 comment:

  1. You're wrong.

    First, there's one other purpose of meetings (especially stand-up meetings), and that is to help focus on the tasks ahead. Every morning (well, ostensibly every morning), my team has a quick stand-up where we state one thing we accomplished the day before, and one thing we want to do for the day. This helps me recognize even small successes, as well as focus on my one task for the day.

    Then there's collaboration. Sure, the referenced HN article is relevant for the initial inception of an idea, but that's just the start of it. When it comes down to the details, it's often far better to have multiple people involved. Each can provide their own viewpoint, and the *how* of the project become much clearer.

    As for buy-in, well, you can't let everyone lead. Not everyone is qualified to lead. Not everyone *wants* to lead (and, as we all know, making someone do something they want don't want to do can be catastrophic). Buy-in meetings are *why* meetings. It's *very very important* to know why you're doing a project, and to make sure others understand why you're doing a project, because without a good reason, you're just wasting time.

    Announcements... well... agreed. There are better ways to do announcements.