Hello, world who has meetings!

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  • Bad meetings are a pain felt universally. You might be feeling it this very minute.

    A poorly conceived or executed meeting can have repercussions far beyond the work effort it supports, so I’m keen to examine the user experience design of meetings themselves. I’m very excited to share that I’ll be doing this in a book for Rosenfeld Media entitled Meeting Design. The book will apply design rigor, iteration, and creativity to an everyday thing — the meeting — to yield some better results in our projects and our work cultures.

    Popular opinion in design literature dismisses meetings as a necessary evil; toxic to the work itself. I think we can do better. We can rebuild meetings. We have the design smarts to do it. We can make them better, stronger, and faster at getting to results. This book collects principles, frameworks, and tactics that balance the desire for participation against measurable outcomes and effective ways to make decisions as a group. My hope is that such a collection will help people who lead meetings as much as those who prefer to keep their heads down and get some work done.

    I’d love to hear from you. What would you like to read about in a book that applies design thinking to meetings? What do you want to change about meetings in your culture, and how can improving the design of the meetings help you?

    8 Responses to “Hello, world who has meetings!”

    1. Livia Labate

      The best guy for this job! I’m so excited you are writing this book. I have a request: Beyond how to conceive a kick-ass meeting, can you address the situations where you are in a meeting that sucks and what you can do to help unsuck-it? When you are not the person who conceived the meeting and you are just parachutting into the situation you can sometimes take over and sometimes participate in a helpful way. There is NOTHING written about this. Kthxbye.

    2. Kevin Hoffman

      Thanks, Livia! I really appreciate you sharing this specific situation that you’d like me to address. There’s a few insights I hope to share and expand upon related to this issue in this video from Google Ventures: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rU8nv38E0Qk. To summarize, in a bad meeting, how can we refocus attention on capturing the decisions we need to make at that time, identify people who add value to those decisions, get finally get those decisions into the right hands? This dynamic is one of the reasons why I think meeting problems and business culture issues are often interrelated.

    3. Hi Kevin,

      I’d love to hear your thoughts on certain meetings that have a “standard format,” like an Agile Standup or Weekly Project Status meeting. The Standup is maddening to me because no one wants to hear about larger issues. The weekly status report also seems like a poor use of time.

      I’m starting to think recurring meetings should be disallowed to force every block of time to justify its existence. 🙂

      But maybe this is a bit overboard and you can help me.

      • Hi Ross,
        I couldn’t agree more.
        All of those recurring meetings that seem to have no specific agenda or format — from my own experience — feel un-special, un-focused, and just a bit lazily thrown together.
        My own personal way to address the crime of agenda-less, runaway meetings is to never ever set up MY meetings to follow this paradigm. I always carefully craft meetings one by one while being certain to include an agenda, meeting objectives, and expected outcomes. I also try to NOT invite the entire world to the meetings I put on the calendar. Focus, purpose and leadership is needed in setting up, facilitating and capturing the value of each meeting, so I try to always operate by those precepts.
        I’m very excited to read this book as well as the Design Leadership book that’s slated to be published in 2008.

    4. Mal Jago

      Meetings are frustrating, especially in larger organisations where people spend their life going to them.
      What I’m interested in, is criteria for meetings, what framework could you apply to determine if a meeting is necessary. And how to manage beuocracy meetings where people come along to represent varies interest and where nothing is actually achieved. Another area is managing the spoilers and lime light seekers, how to prevent them trying to dominate meetings and not swamp introverts.

    5. Kevin Hoffman

      Hello, Ross! Thank you for your interest in the book addressing common meeting formats. I’ll definitely define some common formats in the book. In particular I’d like to address what I suspect might be an issue for your situation: being flexible in adapting formats to the real-time needs of an organization. Stand-up meetings are a tool, like any meeting, but they are tool that works great for some things and not for others. Assessing the current status of agreed upon project plan and individual task execution? That’s a good use for a stand-up. For evaluating the underlying strategy behind a plan, a stand-up isn’t designed to support exploratory work or complex decision making, but it might surface when those things are needed. I hope that helps in the short term, and I’ll try to address it in more detail in the long term!

    6. Kevin Hoffman

      Meetings are frustrating, Mal! I hope they are frustrating to enough people that they would find value in a book about designing them better. 😉

      If you haven’t seen the Google Ventures video I mentioned above, there might be some ideas in there that you find helpful. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rU8nv38E0Qk) That being said, I would say in larger organizations, the problem you describe sounds like a lack of clear connection between those various diverse interests and a specific set of decisions. This is addressed in the video in more detail, but here’s a simple framework. Before someone asks for your time, or asks to be made part of a meeting, ask them this question:

      “What decisions are we making do you feel like you can add value to?”

      The answer might reveal that they are assuming things are going to be addressed at a meeting that aren’t, and that a separate or asynchronous (e.g. e-mail) discussion can address their concern. That being said, I do recognize that we aren’t always in a position to politically ask that question. When you are stuck in a meeting that is incredibly low value, I find that getting up and taking public notes on a whiteboard can help minimize unrelated discussion, especially if there is some sort of discussion framework in advance (e.g. a constraint on which are topics being raised.)

      Regarding “swamping introverts,” first let me say that that is the first time I’ve heard it put that way, and I may borrow and credit your phrasing for this problem! Secondly, I would say that it’s incumbent upon a good facilitator to recognize those dynamics and provide channels (for example, writing ideas on post it notes before speaking them out loud) that even the playing field. This is definitely something I’ll address in detail in the book, however. Thanks for confirming that I’m on the right track with some of these topics!

    7. I really liked the ‘Into the heart of Meeting’ of Eric de Groot & Mike van der Vijver. In there book they also had a chapter of issues they could not adress in their book, maybe a good idea for inspiration?