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One-on-one meetings are underrated, whereas group meetings waste time (smashcompany.com)
276 points by lkrubner on Dec 25, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 113 comments

A few points:

1. The conflict in meetings is not a negative. It is actually a positive. At the intersection of conflict between perspectives is where you get unique insights, innovative ways of doing things.

2. The problem is where conflict is seen as negative.

3. A manager who is running the meeting should be able to integrate different perspectives and find a better path forward. If you can only do this in a 1on1 this is a skill that needs to be honed. You are leaving quite a bit of insight and innovation on the table.

I ran an innovation skunk works project for a CEO. Saw him do this multiple times in meetings. In almost every single case where we had multiple opposing views he was able to integrate and actually propmpt us to come up with something better. I have been honing this skill ever since and it really is an eye opener.

4. Agree on the points on managers being lazy and inviting people that should not be in the room. You need to make sure you get the right people in the room. I would actually encourage conflict.

5. Depending on what needs to be communicated but face to face works best

6. This post seems to assume it is the managers responsibility to make decisions? I would argue unless the manager has more context then his staff decisions should be made by them with the manager providing context and making sense of what needs to be done.

The way I see management in today’s environment is more akin to facilitation rather than manage. If people are smart and self motivated management may actually do more harm then good.

7. When conflict is viewed as negative it can be counter productive as it seems to be for the author. The question is how do you manage it so you actually leverage it for better output? One way we do this is with our values

“We value diversity of ideas, thought”

8. What we have seen work is categories of meetings, brain storming, problem solving, deep dive learning session, quick updates (timeboxed) I suspect author is not managing my the conversation correctly hence he has this issue.

9. If an employee were to “blame” someone else in a one on one meeting and I was the manager? I would look at myself. The manager has as much to blame. In an environment where there is a whole lot of finger pointing this started somewhere and my dibs are on it started from the top.

“If a person is running late on a project, the best way to find out the reason is to have a one-on-one meeting with them. “

10. Interesting that he mentioned ducker. Performance is as a function of the system the people are working in. The assumption in this post is that “somebody is to blame”. In most cases I would argue that it would actually be a fuction of the underlying system. You as a manager are also part of it. You are to blame as well, so is the processes team members, values etc.

I think the point about conflict may not give enough weight to differences in people being naturally dominating or compliant. I'm all for tough conversation and playing tennis with ideas, but sometimes it's been tough to pull-in people who don't like that because they feel really uncomfortable about it.

Best way to bring them is to try to respectfully suppress the dominating personalities and frequently ask for the vocal opinions of compliant people. This may take some time to establish in teams, but has worked well for moving things forward.

When the response during meeting discussion is always "let's take that offline," then it's a waste of time. First off, no one is "online," stupid buzz-speak, but more importantly it's useful for some issues to have a small group of people work it out together so everyone is on the same page.

This resonates with me. I much prefer conversations over group meetings, and I would very much like to have more of those conversations instead of daily meetings.

However, I've suggested this to managers before and received forceful feedback that they "did not have time for that".

It was confusing - if you're a pure manager, what more valuable allocation of your time could there be than in talking directly to people?

"What more valuable allocation of your time could there be than in talking directly to people?"

Taking action, based on the what you've learned while talking directly to people.

A manager's output is the the output of the teams under his or her supervision or influence[1]. That means you have to find the highest-leverage activities: sometimes that's a one-on-one conversation, up, down or sideways. Sometimes it means sitting down and drafting an email or other written document that compiles all the little details you've learned into something meaningful and actionable for the people around you. Sometimes it's about being in front of a group and enabling a conversation that you're not directly at the center of, but which wouldn't happen well without you present.

Which isn't to say your manager at the time was right to dismiss your concerns, or was doing the most high-leverage things they could do. But the perspective might be useful.

[1] High Output Management, Andy Grove (former CEO of Intel). One of several great management books that help clarify "what management is and is not". And if you have never read anything in the genre, I'd start with Managing Humans, by Michael Lopp (randsinrepose.com). Life-changing for me when I was trying to figure out the same thing, before I started doing it myself.

> Taking action, based on the what you've learned while talking directly to people.

If you don't talk to people, then you're oblivious to which actions you actually need to take. You may then end up doing things that have neutral or even negative value.

I'm very skeptical of any manager who never does 1-1s with their direct reports. Such a person is probably more of a project manager than an actual people manager.

(I'm not disagreeing with you, just adding more perspective.)

xiphias, you seem to be shadow banned.

I think it's more important to count clarify, brevity and value than number of attendees. I have a fast growing team where 12 people reporting to three different departments have to work closely together to align instruction, coaching and curriculum. We have a 12 person daily standup. It runs 15 minutes (20 tops) and as well as creating a social situation to engage enjoyably with our peers (we're a remote first team so if we don't meet we don't interact) it also allows us to learn of the various initiatives people are working on, problem students they're dealing with, etc. Even though it's a 12 person meeting, it's probably the most valuable 15 minutes of the day as our biggest challenge is alignment, not production/creation.

I generally hate meetings, but as long as they have a clear agenda, the shortest possible duration, the smallest number of required attendees to achieve the clearly defined outcomes (and allow for optional attendees if people are interested), I find they are a great way of moving forward discussions that bogged down after trying to manage them via an email chain.

We have a 10 person daily standup that takes 30 minutes. The difference is leadership I think. Our meeting host struggles to cut off discussions that should be taken outside of the standup.

Yeah at a previous job we had a six person team regularly doing almost hour long stand-ups (daily). First time I was thankful for job mobility in silicon valley.

I suspect that half the function of meetings is not to get things done, but soft things like being visible, signaling to others, and confirming and evolving the implicit hierarchy.

That is literally what the author said in the article

Where in the article? I don’t see it anywhere.

His main point in the article:

" Why do such meetings happen? There are 2 main reasons:

1. the manager is lazy and undisciplined and so invites everyone rather than thinking hard about who they actually need to speak to

2. the manager is an egotist who likes to force people to listen to the manager’s words "

Well it sounds nice but I feel there are some parts left in the dark. Working this way seems to be over reliant on a single manager. The world is now smart enough to know that we are continually misled by biases, focusing on a single person will emphasize and neither that topic nor a strategy for correction has been discussed by the author. I want my manager to be smart, but this is expecting the manager to be very smart at various levels and leaves very little room for mistakes.

One on one meetings are underrated, especially with tech people and even among them. It is important that managers and tech people build acceptance and try to align their mindsets and share knowledge. But one on ones also leave room for manipulation and favoritism which can tear teams apart.

I agree that many group meetings are boring and badly executed, but a team needs sit at the same table once in a while, even if it is just there to detect conflicts and resolve them one on one. Group meetings suffer greatly from groupthink and dominance of invidiuals. Which is usually badly compensated, if at all. But the failure usually starts with a sloppy agenda and inviting the wrong people. There has been quite some work on that but I usually only see scrum masters randomly doing some of them without serious reflection.

Managers should take care of decisions and tasks that teams or invidials cannot make. Most importantly bring the right people together, get out of the way and cash in the results later. Being the single point of failure is not the solution.

I too agree to a certain extent. I've experienced many problems that could have been avoided had decisions been communicated to wider audiences, and problems that were actually avoided because someone in a meeting (who was not a primary participant) said "actually if you do that change, you'll need to handle a dependency with our component".

Exactly this, small but important details can disappear.

Those kinds of thing may be better communicated through im, emails or even test cases?

Teams need to interact, but not in formal meetings. That’s a false dichotomy.

Most choices are between reasonable options. It's Java vs C# not Java vs ASM. So, the cost of poor decisions is vastly less than often assumed.

That's not to say they are unimportant, but picking randomly is often a better choice than spending 500 hours to decide what color to use for your logo.

Of course there has to be a balance between the task at hand and decision making effort. People have to be good at it and that is a management concern.

Pardon my UI / CSS ignorance but these days I find that I have to zoom in every single article on the web to read it comfortably. I had to zoom this article at 200%. The default text is just too small and I am just using a standard HD display. It would be even smaller on higher resolutions. Do people not view their own website? Does everybody else also find themselves zooming in most of the web pages. What am I missing?

I zoom in pretty much everything too.

The vast majority of web designers are clueless or just don't care about font size recommendations. Most studies recommend at least 18 px for body text, but almost every website goes smaller. Medium is a notable exception, they have sane defaults.

I have the opposite problem. I tend to zoom out since huge font sizes became a trend a few years ago. They're so humongous that it's very tiring to read at the default size. This is especially pronounced on websites like Medium, where I have the zoom set to 80 % permanently.

It might be related to you having a 4K/Retina monitor and the website's author having an older (i.e. regular) display.

The author might never have tested their website on a large display like ours and thus it'll look a bit odd and we have to zoom in.

Don't hi-res monitors have UI scaling built in to the OS? so sizes should be roughly comparable

Sometimes it feels like everything is still done by pixel counting on bitmaps.

Scaling never worked properly on any OS.

It's an impossible problem to solve because sizes are given in pixel or percentage. Whatever you try to adjust, it will be utterly wrong on some combination of content and display.

No it's tiny on a regular display

Try the reader view available on Mozilla Firefox (but perhaps also on other browsers)

Gets me from https://screenshots.firefox.com/2Gu0kninnhAnZKVw/www.smashco... to https://i.imgur.com/tld6Kl6.png

Yes, it's great for focusing on content. I wish I could enable the reader view by default for a list of sites. Or even better, the browser does so automatically when a page has lots of text and is not responsive/is too small.

Funny you say that because i find the font size used by that site to be the most comfortable for me (and i have far from a good sight...) and i really dislike sites that use huge letters (like f.e. Medium). Then again, i prefer small font sizes in general and i dislike the tendency to waste space in modern UIs - both web-based and desktop (and mobile, but i don't use that much and in mobile it is kinda of acceptable because fingers - although i'd really like it if mobiles came with a stylus instead and adjusted their UIs accordingly).

What irritates me more about Medium and like than the font size is the use of persistent banners both at the top and bottom of the screen.

Maybe fine when reading in portrait on a tablet or like, but not at all fine on a desktop.

I often use something like https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/easyreader/boamfhe... to give a nice reading experience for lengthy articles. Works fairly well.

I'd been doing this a lot lately and thought it might be time for a new prescription on my lenses. Maybe it's just poor UX after all. I've never been a "content should be completely separate from presentation" guy, but recent design choice by websites have pushed me further in that direction.

The sites are not "responsive".

This particular site starts with a relatively small font and not responsive which I'm sure makes it a pain to use on small displays.

What am I missing?

Reader View

The only meeting style I ever actually liked was the daily (!) 10 o'clock in the morning 5 minute meeting. It had two (unstated) goals:

  got everyone in by 10AM
  made sure everyone saw each once a day
This isn't something you can do, month in month out, forever. But it works for projects under pressure. Otherwise I largely agree with the FA. Meetings suck up everyone's time and puts them in a room with a depleting oxygen supply.

The worst meetings are exercises and displays of power. Perhaps these are necessary but never at the project level. Some middling managers need to remind themselves they are in charge of something. Seriously, if as a manager you can't write down what your group accomplished over that hour then you just wasted an hour of your group's time.

I worked for a company once where my boss had one of those sorts of meetings. One time, knowing that I was in for an hour of yammering, I told him right before the meeting I had to take care of something. I went out, hopped in my car, drove to a gym, played an hour of pickup basketball, drove back and when I saw my boss I told him I'd taken care of that thing. I also got a lot done that day.

I’m a big fan of 1-1 meetings. I like a lot of what he says, especially about the near futility of bigger meetings.

But my manager was just instructed to schedule biweekly 1-1 meetings with all 17 of his direct reports. I think it’s the dumbest thing ever. If i have something to say to him, i can usually schedule time that day. I may need to bother him 3 times a week, or not for three weeks. When he wants to talk to me, he drops by my desk and we meet right then.

When my regularly scheduled 1-1 time arrives, i’m busy, don’t bother me.

1-1s good. Forcible 1-1s bad.

I actually don't agree. I'm a manager who does regularly scheduled 1-1s with direct reports and I couldn't tell you how many times something unexpectedly comes up that wouldn't have been talked about otherwise. It's also very important just to establish basic rapport between manager and direct report. 1-1s aren't always about conducting business.

You have to keep in mind your manager is also meeting with sixteen other people, so he's seeing a much higher-level picture of the value of these 1-1s than you are.

I have great rapport with my manager. And he agrees with me on 1-1s, he was super approachable before the 1-1 edict was handed down to him, and he went out of his way to touch base with you regularly. His life right now is wall to wall meetings all week long.

You may think your fixed 1-1s are effective for you, but that doesn’t mean your reports all agree.

Is it possible having seventeen direct reports might be at least partially the problem?


We rolled out 1-1s slowly and only because they received overwhelming support and positive feedback. We've run surveys which clearly show that people doing 1-1s report better communication and more satisfaction with their managers, and direct reports in parts of the company that don't do 1-1s have requested them.

I think you are again looking at a broader problem from the perspective of a single example. Also, hopefully your manager doesn't force a 1-1 to go on for a fixed amount of time even if neither of you have anything to talk about.

There should be weekly 1-1 between the manager and the employee, especially at the beginning. Neither side will schedule meetings when things pop ups, major issues can go silent for weeks.

After a while of building the relationship, meetings can be spaced a bit for senior folks who are autonomous.

This entirely depends on the discussion.

As a manager, I use 1:1 to discuss matters related to or pertinent to the individual. I use group discussions to discuss group-level matters -- this is usually something related to project work, i.e. scope, design decisions, etc.

I don't compare the two because they are both "meetings". Each serve a purpose, and ideally both are executed well.

Do you always distribute an agenda before your group meetings? If not, they aren’t executed well.

I used to work at a place where if a meeting did not have a clearly defined agenda and purpose, it was automatically considered optional for all requested attendees.

Worked out pretty well.

That's not necessarily true. You can have well executed group meeting without an agenda. In fact I used to distribute agendas before our weekly meeting, and then stopped because it wasn't helpful. The meetings were quite productive with and without the agenda- but I saved my time and my teams time by not preparing an agenda.

That's not to say that agenda's should never be used, just that they are necessary for well execution.

Yes and no.

Yes -- the subject matter of the meeting is well-defined beforehand and distributed to all.

No -- our topics ARE the agenda and it's normally highly focused. We have on occasion had a second bullet point, but it's rare.

We do lots of other things to keep discussions brief and ensure our time is spent effectively, but you didn't ask about those.

What do you do with decisions made from the Meeting?

You execute them and follow up.

One problem with group meeting is going on tangent. There should be a clear agenda established prior to the meeting.

Having so much frustration with unproductive meetings, I have been thinking about these, and they work in my case.

1. Attach agenda prior to meetig, along with a link to a Google Doc (or whatever live tool you use)

2. Reiterate agenda at the beginning of the meeting, and if this was a continuation of the previous meeting, go over the outcome of the last meeting. They should be reflect in your agenda.

3. Invite someone to be a moderator. Creator/caller of the meeting may be the moderator — only if the moderator thinks he/she is capable of keeping the meeting on track.

4. Ask attendees to use the doc to add questions/summary/views/new items.

5. Summarize before going to the next part of the agenda and at the end of the meeting. “To do, to be discussed” should be announced. Don’t end meeting by just saying “okay thanks for coming, let’s get to work.” Make sure people know what the outcomes are.

I learned #4 when I interned at Mozilla a long time ago. Not sure if everyone team does, but etherpad was very widely used afair. It was helpful for everyone in the team running the meeting in real time and after the meeting, especially because every user gets a different color assigned when the user enters the pad, so we could trace who wrote/made the changd.

Yeah, even simple meeting guidelines/policies help make them a lot more productive in my limited experience.

Having meetings have explicit action points agreed on at the end (and who's responsible for them) and written down helped us immensely.

We were able to almost completely avoid the constant 'have a meeting, agree on x, fast forward 2 weeks and no one can agree if we agreed on x nor why we did' that I've experienced at every other job.

One benefit of this approach is it requires the organizer do work to justify the cost of the meeting.

Also to embellish your last point, every meeting ends with distribution of a list of decisions made and responsible parties for implementing them. That ensures every meeting generates tangible benefits, and you don’t have the same meeting over and over again.

2 you should go through the actions from pervious meeting

5 whoever is taking the minutes should summarise every agreed action at the end of the meeting.

The first thing I want to say when I go into a group meeting is “how did we fail”.

If people are communicating well, slack, grabbing coffee, email then group meeting seem unimportant. When you need to setup a meeting, in particular to discuss a specific issue, it feels like something has gone wrong that we’re all not well aligned already.

I think that's understandable as an attitude given the way meetings are actually utilised in corporate culture. Personally I've found group meetings to top out in effectiveness at 3, maybe 4 people. I would say at that threshold they can be incredibly efficient and effective versus online communication/telecom and important for building human relationships. But beyond that, any additional heads seem to dramatically reduce the effectiveness of a group meeting, let alone its efficiency. It doesn't take many faces before a group meeting is having an all-round negative impact. But I do strongly believe in the effectiveness of moderately infrequent, tight-group meetings. From my own, generally blessed experience anyway.

I don’t agree with this as a generalization - there are a lot of times where one needs to come to a consensus between various stakeholders, and group meetings are the best way to lay out the pros/cons, and come to a decision.

At bigger companies, group meetings take on a larger significance due to the business knowledge base being so massive that group meetings with lots of presentations become the best way to facilitate knowledge awareness.

Group meetings with lots of presentations are the absolutely worst way to facilitate business awareness. Nothing is worse than a meeting designed to have nothing actionable come out if it, and that most of the attendees have little interest in the “knowledge” being shared.

Personally, I think if you’ve reached a point where consensus hasn’t formed naturally in some other venue then it is kind of a failure.

Trying to hash thing out in a meeting is ok as a last resort, but it seems less than ideal. Particularly when people often need time to form coherent ideas.

Group meeting with lots of presentations? Just sounds like my idea of hell really. I’d much prefer to read some notes on a subject and then later sit down with someone if I need to go into more detail.

Sometimes it is more inefficient to form consensus outside of a meeting or few I have found, and sometimes can have undesirable side effects such as bad politics arising - I’ve seen this plenty enough.

Hashing things out in a meeting is best after people have let various approaches bake individually - that is not in contradiction to the utility of group meetings.

To be clear, I’m very much against wasting people’s time - getting the right people in a meeting is super important for efficiency on both ends. I’m just highly skeptical that group meetings can be avoided for a lot of efficiency & human reasons.

but what if you don't get time to read the notes and no one is available for a sit down?

Then the info really wasn’t that important to your day to day job, was it?

Generally I do agree, but would add a “how do we want to change?” to your question of “how did we fail?” A lot (not all) of real deep problem solving and innovating requires face time and more than 2 people

I keep trying this, but every time I have a meeting with more than 2 people, I get bad results.

The introverts don't speak up. The people with the most to lose/gain get loud. The biggest personalities get heard, not the best ideas.

I've vowed to never do a brainstorm meeting again. I'll do 3454353498890 one-on-ones to shop ideas around and iterate on them until everyone agrees.

Then you need to be more active in managing the meeting and ask the introverts to speak - I am assuming you are in charge of the meeting here

"hey you, the quiet one in the corner! Stop being so shy and tell this big loud arrogant idiot why he's wrong to his face!"

I exaggerate, but introvert friends tell me this is what they're hearing when they're encouraged to speak up in group meetings.

well you normally start doing this in less pressured environments.

I have when in charge of a high pressure shareholder meeting told the company founder to stop talking and took another speaker - after the meeting the founder said I was right to do so

Interestingly, this is exactly how the Japanese tend to do things.

Right, but you can certainly grab a couple of people and go for coffee. Or chat on Slack, or email.

It’s just having to explicitly set up a meeting means something has gone wrong in my opinion.

Unfortunately, human communication is hard. I mean, the tools for the job are great but the operators are shit. Meetings are a way to solve quirks in the communication pipeline and fix holes in it, it's the exaggerated desire to always have a meeting for whatever reason (possibly to show off power through control or decision-making) at whatever time that is wasteful and that's what people hate.

The sight of a bunch of passive engineers shuffling off to a meeting they aren't needed at still makes me seethe. You have a professional obligation to say "no" sometimes.

Engineer and executive hours are not cheap. Every unnecessary person in a conference room is a gigantic waste of resources. Beyond three or four people, the marginal utility of adding another person to a meeting is almost certainly steeply negative. Exceptions are situations that require consensus, or where someone is observing to learn.

The last team I worked on had regular 10+ person meetings that entire teams would shuffle off to. I started refusing to go to meetings with more than four other people in them (unless there was a very specific reason to be there). I felt it reduced distractions and waste.

What bothers me even more than the meetings though are engineers who attend them repeatedly, then grumble quietly about how useless they are afterwards. Articulate a thoughtful "no." Get good at it, because you'll need to do it often if you want to be a good engineer.

I completely agree. People tend to be afraid of saying "no" to avoid offending people. And then there is the case of showing off in front of 10+ people.

At my last job, people were spending nearly 2 hours each day in meetings. Each of these meetings required 1-2 hours of preparation. So, nearly 50% of the work week or 20 out of 40 hours were being lost. And most of these meetings were "updates" meetings. Update to Lead Engineer, then team, then VP etc. To top it off the manager believed in "face to face" interactions. So, all meetings happened via video conferencing.

Whenever I explained on how it should be a lead engineer updating the manager and the manager updating to VP, I was given a strange look. How do we show off our achievements? They said.

But it also meant I couldn't individually say "no". Every time I did that my manager received flurry of mails from other engineers on why I was given the "special" treatment of skipping these meetings.

It's a shame it's so ingrained in the culture there. I completely respect that in many situations one isn't permitted to refuse. The idea of showing off at meetings, as opposed to by shipping quality on time and documenting it is crazy.

That is beyond crazy. If I have more than 2h meetings a day my work is practically done. Bad meetings usually create internal discussions and dissipate discipline. Cost of bad meetings multiplies negatively.

Steve Jobs was famous for at the beginning of meetings asking people why they were there. Often when they were assistants/subordinates to a manager in the meeting.

If they didn’t have information/knowledge needed to contribute to the discussion, Steve would say, “Thanks, but you aren’t needed, you can leave now”.

I really admire him for that.

Yeah. I've consulted at too many places where actually programming is the lowest-priority activity. It's something that is supposed to be squeezed in around meetings that can be declared at any time by anybody.

In college I worked in a factory, and there meetings were a) avoided, and b) carefully scheduled to maintain production. I've never understood why we don't treat more office work the same.

My most productive times have been in shops with a strong pair programming culture, and I think that's partly because non-programmers are much more reluctant to interrupt two people doing something together than one person doing something alone. (Interestingly, other programmers would still sometimes interrupt, but they knew how to do it well. A quick question with a quick answer would merit an interruption; anything that was a longer time sink would get held until a break or the morning stand-up.)

There's a difference between not needed and not preparing properly for meetings

There is a principle, i believe parts of Apple do it, that whoever calls a meeting is responsible for

- providing an agenda describing the purpose to attendees

- taking notes

- distributing action items after meeting identifying responsible parties for each item

That way the meeting justifies its existence. The agenda explains why it’s necessary (or it doesn’t and people push back). Something is actually decided, the decision is tracked/communicated and if things don’t happen everyone knows who was responsible.

I worked with a project manager who loved large long status meetings and requirements meetings. It was getting to the point nothing was getting done. Most of the people in the meeting were contractors. 8 people at $100 bill rate was $800 each meeting. I had to put a stop to it. I started a virtual status meeting. I opened a slack channel at 10:00 and everyone posted their updates. If the PM wanted to know anything else they would have to go to the individual dev.

Anyone was free to leave the slack channel after they posted their update.

I told them unless the meeting request was coming from me or someone higher up in my management change, that all meeting requests were just that "requests" that they were free to decline if necessary.

One-on-one meetings have minimum possible number of people required for information exchange (2 participants).

1) Discussions are very valuable for team coordination, so having meetings is very important for efficient teamworks.

2) In order to contribute, every person, participating in the meeting, must understand the discussion.

3) The more people are in the meeting - the more dumbed down the discussion must be in order to allow everyone to follow the discussion. That makes meetings with larger number of people - less efficient. Which makes meetings with 2 people (one-on-one) - the most efficient.

This feels like an especially relevant conversation to have during the holidays, when many folks will be out of the office, so the number of meetings happening will be way down.

I've consistently observed over the past few years that whenever a bunch of frequent-meeting-schedulers are simultaneously out of the office... everything is fine. Nothing bad happens. Team members coordinate with each other fine. Cross-team coordination happens fine. There are still meetings, but the ones that happen tend to be the ones that are actually important and needed. The fluff meetings that have way too many participants get cancelled because too many folks are out, and it becomes more obvious than ever that those meetings were never valuable in the first place.

My productivity (as half-manager-half-programmer) goes way up. My stress and frustration go down because I'm not giving the same status report to the same set of people three times.

I'm not against meetings in general, whether they be 1-1s or large group meetings. I think meetings are fundamental to many organizations. But I do think that almost every workplace has too many meetings that last too long on average and have too many participants on average.

"Meeting culture" tends to act like a virus that infects various parts of the organization. Pure managers get addicted to scheduling and running meetings, because it's the most concrete way they can exercise their authority and appear productive, even if it's not actually productive or helpful to the organization.

I’ve barely been in a group meeting that felt productive. The problem is: no body has the responsibility.

Even with friends, one-to-one or maximum 3 friends together is the most efficient way to know the people.

Tell your team no group meetings without an agenda distributed before meeting, and organizer has to distribute action items and who is responsible for them afterwards. You’ll find your meetings are lots more productive if you do.

Darwinism and Neuroscience needs to get further into society.

I'm sure when we evolved - we weren't designed to ever have productive meetings with groups larger than four or five.

That's why associations follow the Robert's rules of order.

By recognizing human limitations we can come up with appropriate workarounds.

I've worked for a manager who insisted on weekly one-on-one meetings, and it was terrible. I wasted so much time in those meetings, that could have been better served in group meetings, a specific one-time meeting, or email. We all hated it because of that.

The best thing to do is have weekly group meetings, setup meetings as needed otherwise, and have 3 or 6 month one-on-one meeting just to check in.

This article is so wrong. It sounds like he had bad employees, and instead of firing them, did a terrible job and micromanaged them instead.

How long did your weekly one-on-one meetings take? Were there other negative aspects to the one-on-ones besides the time sink?

I'm on the fence about this. In our org, we have all kinds of meetings. From the perfect highly efficient and successful meetings, to ones where either the results were hard to disseminate and transport because certain viewpoints were missing or ones where half of the participants were there needlessly.

It's a tough task to keep the quality level of meetings high, regardless of scenario. I've been in too many one on ones where we just enjoyed each others company a bit too much and it veered off from relevant stuff to just chat and the goals of the one-on-one besides establishing rapport were not achieved.

It's also trying in a interdisciplinary scrum team. We "sacrifice" a full day of our 6-8 person teams every two weeks and it's a mixed bag if review, retro and planning will be efficient and successful or boring and feeling wasteful. Sometimes planning has lots of time spent where backend devs discuss difficulties that are irrelevant to Frontend, sometimes sometimes a Frontend Dev offers a more elegant solution and vice versa.

Personally I've accepted that it's something where one always has to walk the line. There's no easy fix or guideline that always works and it's best to become comfortable with that and try to do best without following a dogma.

Some of those things are important, but shouldn’t take a day. Any guess is the meeting organizers aren’t preparing well enough, and aren’t keeping the meeting on track.

Pointing stories should never take more than an hour for example. There is little benefit to tedious discussion because engineering estimates aren’t that accurate anyways. You need to weight, not measure, so business can understand relative costs.

The whole point of Agile is to deliver high velocity to the customers highest priorities, with frequent releases and course adjustments. If you spend 10% of your teams velocity on standing ceremonies, there should be a really compelling reason.

There is much wisdom in this essay.

Complementary to 1-1s are short, daily stand-ups that: (a) dispatch with unforeseen challenging items that involve multiple players and necessary coordination, (b) identification of redundant work or cross-team delegation where a more knowledgeable team member offers to do something that they would be more efficient at, (c) public prise and building a sense of momentum and respect among team members.

Instead of big meetings, especially with other groups, asking for a working document is sometimes the best way to collaborate with cross-functional teams. Concrete artifacts focus attention. It can be asynchronous. If the materials are reviewed by managers before the meeting, you can avoid pontification and poor use of your staff's time. Recorded presentations of these documents can also be productive for broader audience, provided the materials are reviewed before they are presented. Even within one's team, written communication is essential to building shared knowledge. Calling for trouble shooting or brainstorming meetings can work well if the meetings are promptly rescheduled if team members have failed to read the prerequisite materials.

The site/podcast 'Manager Tools' has an interesting series on the importance of one-on-ones which is definitely worth checking out if the article piqued anyone's interest in this tool. Don't let the date scare you, scroll down to the bottom to find them they're some of the earliest on the feed.


Some of the big takeaways are:

1. Normalise one-on-ones so people understand that a one-on-one is a meeting to build the relationship and actually sort things out, not the precursor to a punishment or other serious issue.

2. Make an agenda, communicate it and then actually stick to it.

3. That agenda should be based one what do you want to talk about, what do they want to talk about, and then discussion of the future. They leave it intentionally open ended and yet fairly strictly time bounded.

4. One-on-ones are regular and important. Do not prioritise things over them unless absolutely necessary as they're the way to build lasting relationships of trust and accord with individuals and teams.

They have some points of minor disagreement with the author of this piece. For instance their one-on-one's are egalitarian, and a fixed time every time, with no prioritisation of particular personal for extra meetings of these kinds (though I assume they're open to one-on-one conversations as necessary).

The podcasts go into a lot of exposition and example scenarios, common pit falls and the like. I actually really enjoy them for the people skills, not being a manager myself. Like I said, they have points of agreement and disagreement with the author over the precise purpose and format of the one-on-one, but I think this piece was good and complementary to the advice I've absorbed from them.

Scheduled 1-1s are dumb and a huge waste of time. If i need to talk to my manager, i want to do it now, not 3 pm on thursday. If i have nothing to talk about on thursday at 3 pm, why do I have to break my flow to go to your office.

A better way is closer to “management by walking around”. Be available for your employees. Those rare birds who need regular 1-1s, schedule them. For everyone else make sure they know they can have one anytime they need, and make sure you take them aside on a regular basis if they haven’t asked for one. And just walk the floor and talk to your team, almost every day.

A manager should be aware of when they haven’t connected directly with a team member in while, and just do it. It’s not hard to track.

Efficiency versus effectiveness. Good words in this essay, but it sort of throws the baby out with the bathwater.

Do what works and makes sense. Catering to everyone's whim is not always in the best interest of the company. Adjust to your employees' preferences, but from time to time they should adjust to the company too.

From the article.

A final word about one-on-one meetings. Food is important. Getting away from the office is important.

Nope not going to do it. I hate to have the "Mike Pence Rule" but my reasoning is more practical. Why take the risk of something being said? I don't go to lunch one on one with anyone who reports to me.

If you have a meeting with 15 people and its dominated by 3 people your chairing skills suck

Or more likely your meeting organization skills suck. What did the agenda say? What was the specific task the meeting was solving? Did it need 15 attendees, or 3? What did the invitees say when you distributed the agenda?

you chair the meeting with the attendees you have not those you would want

You get out of a meeting what you put into it. If you don't prepare an agenda, if you don't take accurate notes, and if you don't followup by distributing the decisions made and responsible parties for implementing them to everyone, you ain't going to get as much out of them.

And you are communicating to your attendees that your time is more valuable than theirs, so maybe that's why you don't get the attendees you want.

One-on-one meetings are the single most under-rated (because they are the single most useful) tool for any modern professional.

There is a clear technique on how to make these meetings successful that I don’t see being discussed or shared.

How you react to this discussion is the difference between business-minded people and everyone else.

This guy sounds like a horrible manager. The screed about too many people in the wrong meetings is good, but there are large meetings that have a reason to be. Also, the emphasis on email over meetings is misplaced — it’s not either or, of course you do both. The worst part is the tone described in his one on ones, which apparently are blame games and witch hunts. It’s spectacularly unproductive to encourage team members to throw each under the bus as a normal rule.

One on ones are hugely valuable, but in my experience managers who emphasize those over team meetings are usually practitioners of differential communication — telling everyone a message customized to make them happy — otherwise known as spin. This is usually associated with new managers who practice a weak form of management, focused on being liked over results. That isn’t this guy’s problem, though!

One on ones should be focused on specific discussions the employee is thinking about. Topics include career development, performance management, company issues, and most importantly concerns they have that need to be addressed before they become truly serious. In that way they serve as an early warning system for issues that are affecting the team.

Think about it, the one on one is probably the only time you are guaranteed to have a direct, personal interaction with your manager that is likely to be more than a brief interaction. It’s definitely the only time you’re not meeting to talk about specific projects. Anything other than mostly listening by a manager during this time is a bad plan.

I wholeheartedly agree. I never would like to work with or for this guy.

> If a person is running late on a project, the best way to find out the reason is to have a one-on-one meeting with them. They are free to incriminate themselves, in ways that I find useful. For instance, they might put all the blame on someone else. After the meeting I will investigate their accusations and discover the truth. Is the other person to blame? If I conclude that the other person is not to blame, then I know I have a person on my team who both runs late and dishonestly blames other people for their problems.

This reads like micromanagement, wasting so much effort into finding someone to blame, and creating an atmosphere of fear and self-doubt.

What he should do instead with all this wasted energy:

Encourage people to discover self-management techniques. Create an atmosphere of trust and reliability by positive, affectionate reinforcement. Give them freedom to breathe, give them reasons to ask themselves every morning "What is one thing that I can improve in my workflow today?" intrinsically?

Intrinsic motivation is key. If you build pressure, they'll never develop their potential, because they never knew that it's possible.

Lead by example, becasue nothing motivates stronger than thinking "Wow, I want to be as cool and productive as my manager, he's awesome!".

This guy does everything wrong. He's wasting time and money, and people will leave until he learns.

Yeah, none of the managers I've met with that sort of negative attitude have been successful. I hope that he straightens himself out and gets it together soon, especially if he has a family that relies upon him for income. He seems to have some good thoughts in other parts of the essay though.

I think you are confusing 1-1 meetings with meetings between two people, because the author used “1-1” to describe the second.

A 1-1 is the name commonly used for a standing meeting between an employee and their manager, primarily used to allow employee to vent/discuss issues important to them.

Having a meeting with one person to discuss project status is also technically a 1-1 meeting because, it’s just two people. Obviously in them the manager should listen to the employee, but the meeting is going to be directed by the manager. You can’t just say, “how’s the project going” and let them filibuster.

I think he’s talking about both the traditional 1:1 as well as ad hoc meetings where the “mostly listening” mandate is absent. I agree with him that the vast majority of large meetings should be emails in an ideal world. In Trump’s America though only about half of people read their work emails and follow up on action items in them, and often later than would be ideal for anything time sensitive. Theoretically doing all 1:1s for that communication is only about 2x as expensive as one big meeting, but it takes much longer to organize and execute.

I agree, and found it odd that the author didn't even touch on this aspect. The phrase "divide and conquer" came to mind while reading.

After looking at his LinkedIn profile, I think it’s a severe case of Dunning-Kruger.

This is micromanagement 101. (Sorry this turned into a bit of a wall of text.)

If you find one-on-one meetings more productive than group meetings, then you are terrible at running group meetings. Full stop, I don't even need to know how good this guy is at running meetings.

Let's walk through some of the benefits the author lists first...

1) Participates can speak without boring others. This is an indicator of two possibilities. One, you have the wrong people at this meeting - that's your fault as a manager (and probably as the meeting leader/facilitator). Or two, you are running the wrong kind of meeting - again, that's your fault as a manager. Meetings should be purposeful, and every participant should have a purpose in being there. You as a manager (and hopefully your team) should consider this before every meeting (trust me, it's easier to do that than hold several times more meetings).

2) People can speak without being interrupted. If you're letting people interrupt each other, you're bad at leading meetings. If you're leading a meeting, you're there to serve the purpose of the meeting, not to be everyone's friend. Again, that's your fault as a manager.

3) They can offer negative opinions about their coworkers. Whoa. Now we're in really bad management territory. How are you going to go about conflict resolution once this person has confided in you? How are you going to be a neutral party? Not only that but giving you that negative opinion didn't solve anything.

4) They can offer positive opinions about their coworkers. Haha. What. "The too obvious incentive of their co-worker hearing their praise." Jesus. Where do you work? This isn't even bad management, this just sounds like a horribly unhealthy organization.

5) "If a person is running late on a project, the best way to find out the reason is to have a one-on-one meeting with them." I mean did you have to have a one-on-one meeting to find this out? If you have people that are unwilling to take responsibility for their (yes, their, not your) projects, then you need to check your hiring practices.

"They are free to incriminate themselves, in ways that I find useful." Jesus Christ. Again, where the hell do you work? In ways that you find useful? "For instance, they might put all the blame on someone else. After the meeting I will investigate their accusations and discover the truth." Or, if you had done this in a group setting, they wouldn't have had that option and you wouldn't have to had to go play Sherlock Holmes with your employees. But, I guess you have the free time? "If I’d called a group meeting, and that other person was in the room, it’s unlikely that anyone would have told me the truth." Or you could hire people that take responsibility for their actions.

6) "What if someone finishes a project much faster than I expected, or with much higher quality than I was expecting?" "It would be awkward to try to have these conversations while other people are in the room." I mean, maybe. They might have questions too, or be interested in the answers. Again, if you take the time to actually think about the purpose of the meeting you want to have you won't run into this problem. There is a time and a place for one-on-one meetings.

Now, let's look at some of the things he dislikes about group meetings now...

"As it was, during the typical meeting we had 15 people in the room, most of whom were bored." Whoa. What. 15 people!? That's twice as many people as you should probably ever have in a meeting.

"So who is right, and who is wrong?" Didn't see a whole lot of managing in that conversation. Do your meetings even have leads/facilitators? Who is holding the participates accountable for the purpose of the meeting?

"You’ll need to figure this out, but you don’t need to do so while 12 other people are in the room. If you are the manager who is overseeing this, it is up to you to get people back to work." Then do that, get the meeting back on track.

"A great manager doesn’t allow such debates to exist, because they don’t hold the kinds of meetings where this behavior is possible." WHOA. Nope. This is about as bad as management can get. Debates are healthy, conflict isn't bad. How else are you (and your organization) going to learn and grow?

There's a lot in there about "client" meetings, but not so much about internal meetings. Why is that? Sounds like the author is shifting the blame... I like to have managers that take responsibility for their actions...

So, what's the real conclusion of this article? Aside from there clearly being some "client" issues. One-on-one meetings are easy. Here's why:

1) They are easy to lead. Leading one is easier than leading five.

2) They avoid, more or less, all conflict. Even the productive kind. You can be everyone's friend.

3) They mean you (as a manager) don't have to think about who should attend.

4) Everything on your team has to go through you (I believe this is also called micromanagement).

They also are far less efficient and effective, if you know how to lead a group meeting.

>one-on-one meetings

good luck defending against the sexual harassment allegations after that one. i'll stick to group meetings where i won't be risking my career and reputation.

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