Please (I’m begging here) consider the psychology of meetings!

It’s an occupational hazard that I go to a lot of meetings.  That’s not a bad thing because my job is a team sport.  Except for rare moments of programming bliss, my primary responsibility is to design, collaborate, and coordinate with other people.

The Problem

My problem with meetings is that we often forget about psychology when we are holding meetings.  I’m not going to go all B F Skinner or DeBono’s Hats on you, but I want to reinforce that we all have DIFFERENT MODES OF THINKING during meetings.  Some examples:

  • Listening to a presentation *
  • Giving/getting status *
  • Designing a product or presentation
  • Negotiating requirements
  • Making collaborative decisions
  • Celebrating success *
  • Giving subjective feedback

Let’s get concrete.  It is impossible to get people to  do design during a status meeting.  Even if you have the same people in the room, the way they behave (taking turns talking, rushing to finish, linear) during a status meeting is fundamentally different from how I would expect them to act during a design session (dynamic back and forth, pausing to reflect, circular)

It’s even worse when you factor in time bound meetings (I added * to them above) for open-ended activities like design, feedback, and collaboration.  If you want to kill ideas or suggestions then ask for them during the closing 2 minutes of a meeting. 

A big part of the solution is to remember how people are framing your meeting. 

  • If you want decisions but need to get people up speed then plan a clear end to the status part of the meeting
  • If you want feedback and discussion then don’t throw in a lot of status or one-way presentations.
  • remember:  Any meeting with a power point deck is a PRESENTATION.  It is not a discussion.

Agile Meetings

One of the things I like about Agile is that there is a lot of psychology in Agile!
The meetings in Agile are planned so that people are in the right frame of mind for the meeting. 
  • Stand-up (scrum) is a time bound status meeting.  It should be tight and focused.
  • Review is a FEEDBACK meeting and NOT a presentation meeting.  I like to have different people talking during the meeting so that it does not put people into a power point stupor. 
  • Retros are discussion meetings.  The must be open ended so people are not rushed. 
  • Planning is a design meeting where new ideas are formed.  People must be relaxed so they can be interact and collaborate.
It’s even more important to understand that the way iterations unwind is part of the magic
  • Reviews reinforce that team member have completed something.  It puts them in the frame of mind that they have closed something and are ready to start on new work.
  • Reviews give feedback to set priorities so that people feel like they know what’s important.  Their expectation is that they are working on what’s most important.
  • Retros build up team spirit.  They celebrate achievement and clear the air so the team can collaborate better. 
  • Retros establish team trust.  Trust is the single most essential ingredients for good design because people must take risks when they make design suggestions.
  • Planning brings together the feeling of accomplishment and purpose from reviews with the trust and collaboration from retros.
  • Planning should empower a team to be in control of their work and be confident that they are on the right track.
  • Stand-up, when planning works, becomes a quick reinforcement of priorities.
  • Stand-up should be status that the plan is on track or lead to a discussion (a new focus) for correction.

If meetings are getting you down then consider what type of meeting your are trying to create and focus your effort on that outcome. 

Oh, and my #1 tip for more effective meetings

Find ways to be collaborative by sharing screens, co-editing documents, or just rotating speakers.  It’s not a productive meeting when just one person has the conch.