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Pointless work meetings 'really a form of therapy' (bbc.com)
510 points by DarkContinent 9 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 207 comments



One of my employers actively discouraged meetings and phone calls. They wanted everything done through Slack and email.

It felt great at first. Having a wide-open calendar and knowing that random managers can’t pull you into a waste of time meeting seems like a dream come true. However, we quickly learned that removing meetings doesn’t removed the need for communication.

Instead of scheduled meetings, our Slack channels turned into never ending pseudo-meetings. Instead of the well-defined start times of a meeting and the implicit expectation that meeting participants come prepared with an agenda and material to discuss, we had a spontaneous free-for-all in Slack. People could, and would, start important team discussions in Slack at random times all day long. “@here” started to feel no different than a meeting, except it was unpredictable, you couldn’t prepare for it, and it would certainly disrupt your concentration.

The other unintended side effect was that people were still scheduling secret meetings. They just had to be quiet about it because technically we weren’t supposed to do it. The teams with regularly scheduled meetings were more cohesive, less disrupted, and significantly less stressed than those who tried to handle everything in the asynchronous “always on, always connected” style.

So yes, excessive, unnecessary, or poorly-run meetings are bad. But I never thought I’d miss properly run meetings as much as I did when they were removed completely from our communication toolbox. Use the right tool for the right job and enforce good meeting discipline.


I've found that, with the exception of daily stand-ups, all meetings must have a bullet point agenda and notes should be sent out for each meeting with risks, action items, issues and ownership of those items. If both of those things are lacking, I doubt how useful the meeting will be or was.


Not only do those things make meetings more productive, they increase the overhead to calling a meeting.

We don't often celebrate making things harder to do, but adding friction to something that's happening too often can help bring it back into balance. That's especially true for things with large "multipliers". An unscripted meeting might take one hour for the person calling it, but eat 10 hours of other people's time (plus interrupt them). Adding an hour of prep and summary for the caller lowers that ratio a bit so everyone has a more similar view of the meeting.

That's rarely grounds to make things harder with no benefit, but meeting prep has very solid benefits. Even in terms of time wasted, a clear agenda keeps meetings from dragging on, and routing minutes/summary after the fact avoids repeating discussions or inviting people who only need to listen.


>We don't often celebrate making things harder to do, but adding friction to something that's happening too often can help bring it back into balance.

Sometimes friction creates abrasion and waste. Sometimes it creates the traction necessary to actually move forward without sliding all over the place like a hot mess.


I can't believe I've never thought of it in physical terms before! This is perfect!

I'm working on some of our internal screens at work and part of this is me really trying to get things right and easy for everyone. However, yeah, there _are_ things that should be hard to impossible to do because they shouldn't be doing them and we've entered the realm of needing to coordinate with people and raise flags that something errored along the way.

At first people thought of it in terms of the needless waist friction that had become so prevelant, but soon came to realize that it was a good friction telling them they were off the beaten path, allowing them to hand stuff over to their managers and get problems taken care of before causing problems for customers, wasting customer services time as well as causing us to expend more resources to correct the mistake.

Like you said, friction in just the right places allows good things to happen.


I see it as putting more of the cost of the meeting onto the caller, rather than spreading it amongst the participants via wasted time and energy (or the dreaded re-convene since no one was ready).


It's not just shifting costs. Maybe you trade say 1-3 units of time of caller for say 9x 1 units of time of attendees, for a 9/3 = 3x or more savings.

Callers tend to have higher salary, but usually way less than the people count multiplier.


Adding a barrier of entry to something generally improves the quality of whatever it is.


At the cost of quantity, but agreed.

(There have been some really interesting displays of this, like Robot 9k avoiding chat spam, or Kingdom of Loathing's 3-question "test" for joining global chat.)

Print fiction stories are higher average quality than web-published or fan-fiction, because they costs money to produce. Nobody prints and binds 500 words of unfinished, unedited rambling, but they certainly put it on AO3. But it turns out there's a lot of stuff that's interesting and valuable, yet too niche or awkwardly sized to justify printing.

So I guess there are two questions. First, does the barrier to entry improve the overall quality of the thing, or just weed out the weakest examples? Charging anyone who calls a meeting $10 would avoid some stupid meetings, but requiring an agenda can also improve worthwhile meetings. Second, are the marginal examples worth having? For a short story in a database, sure. For a five person meeting? Definitely not.


> Nobody prints and binds 500 words of unfinished, unedited rambling

A lot of people do. They just don’t reach you (vs internet distribution).


might charging a ‘call to meeting’ fee based on the attendees salary/hourly rate be an alternative?


Not sure how many people would want to pay to do their own jobs.


Allocating and drawing down a meeting budget pool might assist with this.

As a positive incentive, a countering "attending" pool, also budgetable. Meetings with strong appeal would be compensated from that.

Not sure what to do with the Imaginary Meeting Points at the end of the year, though possibly use it as the basis of some sort of merit award or bonus.


At a bare minimum, teams that plan via "story points" or other time units ought to count meetings in those scores. When they don't, you start getting teams that either "get nothing done" or have to work nights and weekends because planning meetings are displacing all their intended work.

For actually tracking Meeting Points, one option might be to make them a project metric? As in: "We predict our project will consume 21 Meeting Points, if we go over 25 that's a failure to be analyzed afterwards like overruning schedule or budget, if we're under 15 we're probably budgeting wrong".


And I thought a few extra vipers was bad! I can't even imagine the level of ensuing bullshit...


Properly designing incentive systems in a realm of pervasive externalities and nonobvious costs and benefits is difficult.

I'm not saying the market/cost approach is necessarily the best or appropriate. But it's an interesting thought experiment to work through it.

Sometimes imposing arbitrary requirements (e.g., "have an agenda") is a cheaper way of effecting the same ends. Though Goodhart's Law is another pitfall.

NB: "vipers"?


I'm not certain it is a good idea to to that but let me try to come up with a more constructive way to do it:

Of course people shouldn't pay to do their work, so this must be taken from their allocated budget. If they don't have a budget they cannot invite anyone without the permission of someone who has a budget and think the meeting is a good idea.


in contracting this is not uncommon. one employer I worked for bid on a contract that was later revised down by 75 percent. meetings were curtailed to save money precisely because of the cost to the customer. budget sensitivity is a valuable tool to fight time wastagement.


I would be very concerned about that killing productivity by making it so that nobody is willing to schedule them at all.


A great former boss of mine and I adopted a silly catchphrase that was introduced to him by an efficiency guru at some managerial conference:

"No agenda, no attend-ah."

We groaned every time we used it. I've used it ever since.


Yeah I groaned too but it's a good quote. I'll use it too...

The one I heard was "If we don't know what the meeting is for, how will we know what we're getting out of it if we attend?"


I was at a company that employed thousands of people.

They did a company wide training on effective meetings.

Set agendas, notes, and etc were all part of their training. It was great.

I never saw a single person do those things... not the VPs, not the CEO, nobody. I did it for my meetings as a sort of invisible act of defiance, but nobody ever read them before the meeting and most didn't know meeting invites came with anything other than the time, date, location info :(


> "People don't do concrete things any more," he says.

I (dev) and my team certainly do.

To that end, I've started putting a standard caveat at the end of all my team meeting reminders on chat: Everyone is optional, but everyone who goes must have read the agenda and linked pre-reading.

First couple of times I did that, some people self-called-out as not having read the notes (after asking questions specifically addressed in the notes). After that it's been mostly good. People have thanked me for my efficient meetings, but all I did was to make people read the agenda :)

"Therapy" meetings certainly have their place, and I've personally grown a lot as a person in those. We have one (retro) every two weeks. But if most meetings in your organization are better thought of as therapy meetings... well, it's no surprise people don't do concrete things any more.


> not the VPs, not the CEO

This is the biggest problem where I've seen companies try to do this. The C-level and senior management team make a big fuss about how the company is having too many pointless meetings, they need to be effective, short and have agendas... and usually you can count in hours the time before the one of the exact same senior managers has sent a 2 hour, 20-person invite titled "project catch up" with a blank body.

(You can probably generalise this to many company initiatives, not just the ones about meeting habits.)


It feels like in almost every office kitchen I've been in in Norway there is some sort of label that say something that is supposed to be witty like: your mother does not work here, tidy up after yourself.

It mostly doesn't work.

Three places I worked had tidy kitchens. None of them had these labels, but more importantly: in all three of them management would fix it if others didn't. I guess most people only see their bosses boss tidy up a couple of times before they realize everyone is supposed to do that.


If my boss is too fancy to recook coffee so am I. Communal assets only work out if they are properly cared for by almost everyone except the usual antisocial free-riders who you have to ignore.


I started refusing any meetings that didn’t say their purpose and desired outcome. I’m a schmeg so it just made people stop scheduling meetings with me and that was pretty good.

People seem really busy and tell me they are too busy to plan their meeting or prepare for mine. It’s a viscous cycle.


I prefer meetings with just one clearly defined purpose that all participants agree is worth having a meeting for. Like "what are you currently working on?" (the daily stand-up), "what are we going to do this next sprint?" (the planning), "what is the best way to fix this problem we have?", "where do we want to be in 3 (or 6) months?".

As soon as there's more than one point on te agenda, the meeting is going to be a drag for half the participants.

(Of course that single purpose often still requires prep from the organiser and/or other participants.)


Absolutely.

You can tell a lot about a person's professionalism by looking at their meeting invites.

I avtively refuse meetings without an agenda and a why this meeting is important. And I put a Joy in applying this on a management level too.

Don't fuck with people's time, it's the only thing we can't get back.


Ever since I started ending time budgeting for each agenda item I've never looked back.

My agendas look like this:

(1) Two word emotional check in [Lead:Jd][budget: 5 minutes, actual: ]

(2) How did sprint one go? [Lead:Mark][budget: 7 minutes, actual: ]

(3) Should we have pizza or chinese food for lunch? [Lead:Francis][budget: 3 minutes, actual: ]

I send out the agendas in advance for anyone to PM me to add something.

Then I use a stop timer to track how many minutes were used per agenda and send it along with the minute meetings and action items post-meetings. Action items are almost always tracked some sort of issue tracker but I use different ones for different projects.


John Cleese taught us that in the 70's https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meetings,_Bloody_Meetings


Back then information was disseminated via inter-office memos and meetings. They were more valuable for general communication than today.


Agreed but it also applies to standups. I think if you just want ambient awareness, have people post their daily "what I did/will do" to Slack. No need to derail every single day for half an hour or more.


Half an hour or more is no longer a standup.


Doesn't mean that isn't what people are calling a "standup".

More seriously, even if standup actually were 5 minutes like it should be according to theory, no interruption takes less than half an hour to recover from and resume flow.


> standup actually were 5 minutes like it should be according to theory

Jeff Sutherland who invented scrum thinks it should be 15 minutes, so according to theory they should be 15 minutes:

> The Daily Scrum is a 15-minute time-boxed event for the Development Team. The Daily Scrum is held every day of the Sprint. At it, the Development Team plans work for the next 24 hours. This optimizes team collaboration and performance by inspecting the work since the last Daily Scrum and forecasting upcoming Sprint work. The Daily Scrum is held at the same time and place each day to reduce complexity

https://www.scrumguides.org/docs/scrumguide/v2017/2017-Scrum...


Scrum, Agile etc. is a nonsense which should be ended. The one reason why it is so popular is that it provides managers with opportunity to organize meetings - stand ups, planning, retrospectives,... Why in the world would anyone reach out to other people to figure out what to do in the next 24 hours? The development of even a minor feature takes longer than that, and contrary to Agile principles cannot be arbitrarily split into smaller parts.


I find 15-minute, daily "sync meetings" to be an invaluable tool in coordinating the efforts of an organization with many moving parts.

The meeting chair (senior engineer) goes around the room and we all have the same list of items to report on each day. It helps avoid duplication of effort and also increases coordination in pursuit of objectives.


No one is going to admit in writing on slack that they are stuck. In person it's a lot easier to call people out.


I find slack or similar sufficient, people blaberring into microphone dont really add anything


Not just an agenda but, if possible, an explanation for why each invitee is being invited and what they are expected to bring to the table. I can't count the number of meetings I show up to with only a foggy notion of why I was included or what important context I need to be aware of before discussion.


A counterpoint is that I've seen that people get appointed to handle those things and the recurring meeting happens but with additional overhead and people involved. Source: working in government


At one startup I was lucky/early enough to have the leverage to declare this as a policy (for me). If I didn't have minimally an agenda with a clear owner and at least one listed decision (or, rarely, a sensible request for inform only meeting) I wasn't going to attend. It got a bit of friction at first but increased the effectiveness of meetings by about 80% I think. It was nice while it lasted.


Can you provide some examples? Need to push for changes like this myself.


As a project manager who runs and attends a lot of meetings :) I recommend these two books about planning and running effective meetings:

* "Effective Meeting Skills" by Marion Haynes is a short workbook from 1988. It looks dated, but the material is still relevant and a quick read. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0931961335/

* "The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance" by Steven Rogelberg. This 2019 book is great and includes useful findings from real studies of meetings. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0190689218/

This podcast interview with the author is a good introduction: https://www.gayleallen.net/cm-127-steven-rogelberg-on-making...


Agree that enforcing meeting discipline is key. Banning meetings altogether seems like a crazy idea. We are social creatures after all, and often a 5 minute conversation can save 10 or more emails or 30 "chat minutes".

Amazon has a very interesting approach to meetings that I'm curious if anyone has first hand experience with, or other thoughts. For those that aren't aware - Jeff Bezos famously banned PowerPoint, and has people prepare a (max 6 page I believe) written memo for every meeting. Then there's time at the beginning of the meeting carved out for reading the memo - after which people will start talking.

I can imagine that this does a few things - it creates a barrier to actually scheduling meetings - so people don't do it as often. And, it ensures participants can have meaningful, detailed conversations.


Not for every meeting!!! Just important ones.


We're not social, we are tribal, we need to show dominance on our peers and in person it works best.

Being the king of slack serves no purpose.

What Bezos does (if it's true) is just apply common sense (let's solve this real issue and only this one quickly by talking about it an only about it because we are the ones who can solve it and no one else) to a workplace where people are payed so much that it shouldn't even be possible to have non meaningful meetings.

But this is the kind of world we live in nowadays...


Yea Slack really is the worst. My job has plenty of meetings, but still uses Slack a lot: I'll never understand how companies can be productive with a heavily Slack-based workflow.

The fact that my coworkers don't seem to understand the value of keeping a distinction between async and sync communication caused me to recently turn off my Slack notifications, and it's been incredible. I'm much, much more productive than I was before, and the amount of people who actually needed a synchronous response from me was a small fraction of the pings I get (I use DnD so people can click an option to notify me if necessary).

I've started turning down meetings too, or at least gating them with a request for a specific agenda: it turns out half the time, I can point them to some docs or answer them directly without needing to interrupt my routine for half an hour+.

The difference in my productivity is truly insane, and it's come at an extremely minor cost of the teams and teammates that work with me having to be more thoughtful about what they need. (and of course, I still take plenty of meetings, since sometimes conversations need to be open-ended)


> the asynchronous “always on, always connected” style

Nit: I've always heard this called synchronous, since in this style work is performed immediately, rather than queued up to wait for execution at a scheduled time.


> Nit: I've always heard this called synchronous, since in this style work is performed immediately, rather than queued up to wait for execution at a scheduled time.

I referred to meetings as synchronous because they acquire a lock on everyone's time, at a specifically scheduled time on their calendar.

I refer to Slack and e-mail communication as asynchronous because you're not explicitly locking other people's calendars, but those other people are expected to read and respond to the notifications all throughout the day.

If you never know when the next important "@here" conversation is going to pop up in one of your Slack channels, the only way to have a seat at the table is to be always on, always connected.


I don't agree, there is nothing requiring them being synchronous since anyone can send a message at anytime and the response can be delayed an arbitrary amount of time unlike a meeting which has a definite start and stop. That certainly sounds asynchronous to me.


There’s certainly confusion about this, as Slack can be used for both.

If someone sends you a message, and they’re happy to wait for a reply, then that’s asynchronous.

If someone posts an @here in a channel asking for comments before making a final decision on the spot, then that's synchronous.


Yes, and this is exactly the problem with Slack: it tries to shoehorn both modes into a single mechanism.

Asynchronous communications must be structured fundamentally differently from synchronous ones in order to be effective. Trying to merge them into a single mechanism is a horrible mistake.


Async communication is what email is for! People who use Slack for sync communication are hopelessly confused (obvious tell: async doesn't notify you). This obviously only applies to DMs, @heres, and tags: public channels are just async modes that can smoothly transition into sync


I always treat slack as asynchronous.

I find phonecalls less disruptive, they happen once, and the issue is addressed. If it is dragging too long, we move it to a meeting.

A chat session can continue indeterminate amount if time, keep flaring up and distracting you as different people chime in from half-afk half-paying attention standpoint.


correct. Asynchronous is something like email


Technically, you can demand an immediate response via email (and in some industries, this is quite common). It's the expectations around the channel that matter.


Agreed, but I would say that chat channels (and especially 1:1 chat pings) typically have expectations closer to immediate mode compared to other mediums. Because they typically cause a notification and break in concentration, I label them as "synchronous." Any communication medium that does not have notifications and only works via me polling it is asynchronous.


a lot of things matter. Just the fact that there is no pre-loaded text area to respond changes the dynamics of the conversation.


@here is not asynchronous.

It sounds to me like they were using Slack for discussions that should have happened on a Google Doc or ticketing system.

If people are constantly pinging you on Slack they're doing it wrong, and you need to let them know.


You could summarize and say "edicts cause unintended consequences". Nature (and by extension, humanity) doesn't operate on booleans, and it's lazy to assume so. It takes work to identify positive behaviors and incentivize them, and identify negative behaviors and disincentive them. Treating the symptoms with an edict will almost always result in new and interesting things that you never knew you didn't want. Your example is great.


That sounds like a super interesting learning experience. What were the justifications for no meetings at all, out of interest?

Edit: Bleh, I misunderstood; just discouragement of meetings. It'd still be interesting to hear the reasoning (especially if it deterred people from holding meetings in favour of Slack)

A low volume of meetings, ideally visible to all staff on company calendars, with well-documented titles & purposes before the meeting, and transcripts/recordings for later reference afterwards (especially to handle any especially controversial decisions or discussions) is what I'd consider a 'gold standard'.

There's still the potential for people to try to back-channel discussions via in-person meetings and various other means, but at least it makes transparency the default, and allows questioning the paper trail.

Also: none of this should necessarily detract from the fact that, for some people, they may psychologically benefit from what we are discussing as 'pointless meetings' and airing their voice / asserting their status.

If that's genuinely helping those people, I think there's a place for it (even if it might not be what a purpose-driven engineer or mission-driven entrepreneur might want to see at their organization).


> That sounds like a super interesting learning experience. What were the justifications for no meetings at all, out of interest?

They thought it would increase speed of execution. Instead of finding the first available calendar slot that works for everyone 3 days from now, why not just have the conversation immediately in Slack? Get answers fast and then move on.

They also wanted to avoid gathering more people than necessary for longer than required. The idea was that engineers could quickly check the "@here" message, decide if it's relevant or not, and then get back to their work.

Good intentions, but it increased the volume of notifications immensely. Taking a single day off of work meant that I had to sift through well over 100 Slack notifications when I got back to my computer. A mix of @here, @channel, my name being tagged with 10 other people, or impromptu private message meetings. I uninstalled RescueTime because it was too depressing to see a minimum of 2-3 hours per day spent in Slack. I'd gladly trade those 2 hours of Slack time for 2 (or more) hours of efficient, well-run meetings.


Did your employer discourage all meetings or just recurring ones? I find ad-hoc meetings to be pretty useful. It's the recurring ones that drive me batty.


The side effect of having all meetings on slack is that you get note taking for free and will always have the discussion and data points logged down and searchable forever. I find this to be extremely useful when looking back on decisions made and finding context on why they were made.


> But I never thought I’d miss properly run meetings as much as I did when they were removed completely from our communication toolbox. Use the right tool for the right job and enforce good meeting discipline.

I completely agree. A meeting can be extremely valuable when you have clear goals, an agenda, and clear reasons why every participant is needed/needs to be there.

One tendency I see and hate is when someone calls a 1 hour meeting, finishes the (usually underbaked) agenda in half an hour, but now they feel the need to pad the remaining half hour with whatever they can dredge up. Instantly turns the meeting from "a good use of half an hour" to "a bad use of one hour".


> calls a 1 hour meeting, [...] but now they feel the need to pad the remaining half hour with whatever

that's a wild way to run meetings — in my current organization, finishing a meeting ahead of schedule (when appropriate) is celebrated as "giving time back".


Why doesn't slack implement scheduled and time-limited "meetings" chats?


I have to say it's really frustrating to duplicate functionality (in any way). This is what has happened to Slack, Quip, Salesforce and for that matter Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

I want one way to view code (Vim), one way to view a .jpg (feh), one way to ask quick questions (IRC), one way to quickly browse text (Lynx), one way to communicate structured messages (email)... but alas it falls apart due to the fact that we work as social creatures.


Slack is a useful product that is so frequently and heavily abused that an argument could potentially be made it shouldn't exist at all.

A friend of mine showed me her work slack for a company of ~100 people and no joke, they have over 20 channels for non-work purposes that are entirely random (#cupcakeparty) and are frequently contributed to with nothing valuable. Based on personal experience, I suspect that's not too unique.


I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that - it’s a form of community building. The problem in my experience is slack’s over enthusiastic notification defaults. If Sue and Joe are chatting about an upcoming office party in a general channel, that’s great - just so long as my devices don’t tell me about it until I explicitly open that chat channel.


> A friend of mine showed me her work slack for a company of ~100 people and no joke, they have over 20 channels for non-work purposes that are entirely random (#cupcakeparty) and are frequently contributed to with nothing valuable. Based on personal experience, I suspect that's not too unique.

Okay, what is wrong with that? My company has dozens of goofy slack channels that are full of people goofing around. I don't particularly care for them, so I don't join them. But I do get some amount of joy from the fact that others are having fun on those channels...

If you used IRC, you'd have the same kind of deal. If you just used email, you'd have goofy aliases that people created (unless you worked for some grumpy, stoogy company or the government)


I find Slack to be terrible unless used properly.

Non-developers really don’t understand how bad it is to be interrupted when “in the zone”.

I am way more productive if left to check email/slack of my own accord, when an appropriate time presents itself.

Recently, having become a home worker, I’ve found that meetings are quick & to the point, and it’s anti rely because of the group video element. Makes meetings seems worthwhile and productive.



Wouldnt due dates solve some of this problem? Either "we arent going to talk about this again as a group for 48h", or "you have one week to prepare for us to revisit this."

It still allows you to multitask and be in multiple meetings at once, without allowing people to start initiatives before people are prepared. Not perfect, but sounds like a step forward in a no-meeting culture.


> Wouldnt due dates solve some of this problem? Either "we arent going to talk about this again as a group for 48h", or "you have one week to prepare for us to revisit this."

Not really. Once you start adding specific dates around when people can discuss things, you've just reinvented meetings in a less efficient medium.

The key is proper mentoring, coaching, and expectation setting. If meetings are becoming a problem, work on coaching people how to run healthy meetings. If you just ban meetings, the same bad habits just spill over into less efficient mediums and create even more problems.


The issue is for whatever reason even data-driven people don’t measure anything around meetings. Since almost no one has had proper training and have no feedback loop, it becomes very difficult to identify what is necessary v. what isn’t. Meetings shouldn’t be removed altogether, they should be measured for effectiveness and then tools can be implemented to run them properly.


Information exchange meetings are useless and a source of boredom. What‘s important are decision meetings - and this is where you need a precise agenda and where you always need to communicate the expected outcome.


Often I ask myself at the start of the meeting "what are we trying to achieve". Am wondering if I've been missing the point.


This is a criticism of slack rather than an appraisal of meetings.


Yeah you have to get rid of pointless managers. Pointless meetings will disappear automatically then.


Pointless meetings are just a part of meetings. Imo you can't have valuable meetings without pointless ones. Knowing how to best minimise the toil is key.


There's some truth to this, but holy smokes, another meeting is not the cure.

There is value in "venting" at work. A few years ago I built a software tool that pings people at the end of the week asking how their week went. Some of the quietest people in the company had the most to say when they were behind a screen. In fact, some people literally called it therapeutic. It turns out that writing things down can serve as a form of "therapy" (source: https://positivepsychology.com/writing-therapy/)

If you lead a team, I'd strongly recommend you have a feedback mechanism like this in place, but a meeting is not the right medium. It's just a place for the extroverts to complain.

If you do hold a meeting for this stuff, a 1-1 is probably the best way to surface a similar level of information.


Perhaps you are being overly dismissive of the "extroverts" needs in the situations you are describing...

Some might just "complain", but others feel safer being vocal in a group of people.

You mention understanding that some of the quietest people have the most to say behind a screen, well, I imagine there is a non-insignificant group of people who feel much safer talking it out within a group where there isn't a written record and they can judge the crowd's reaction immediately.

I wouldn't consider myself anywhere close to an extrovert and I would consider myself more candid in spoken communications at work, even when my whole team is present.

Just my 2 cents.


I could have misinterpreted him, but I do not believe the intent was to dismiss the extroverts but rather to point out the lack of balance in that approach. I have observed this as well, as the "lets have a meeting" approach gathers one type of useful feedback, while the one-on-one (or even written) approach gathers different types of feedback.


Most work places are heavily dominated by the extroverts. The sales and executive teams are all extroverts. So is the marketing team. IMO it's fair to consider the other side of the coin, there's virtually no way that extroverts aren't going to continue to rule the workplace.


There is an old joke about extroverted accountants looking at your shoes rather than their own.

Its that time of year again were everyone gets ready for holiday sales blitz. Marketing teams the world over keep talking about how they are going to drive revenue.

After you factor in overtime, technology support, shipping delays and the knock on effects of stress (look at deployments, LOC produced, and so on in Jan and Feb) you quickly see that the hit on the bottom line is bigger than anyone ever thought of (and more so this season).

You don't have to be an extrovert to build a chart and a graph of this (and the other phenomena) that points out reality, and its impact. It tends to temper people singing their own praises (what extroverts are really good at) without having the data to back it up.

The message from this, go find the other introverts, find out what they do, and how it matters to you. Corporations are a lot like spider webs, tug on one thread and the whole thing vibrates, it is just a question of how much and where. Your fellow introverts are the keys to figuring out where, and if they are meaningful.


Playing the devil’s advocate, if what you say is true, that most of an organization is extroverted, why would you want to optimize your feedback process for the introverts? Is the reason that you believe the extroverts’ voice is already heard?


Extroverts are over-represented because they're the loudest voices. Introverts have a lot to offer but they're pushed aside.


I am an extrovert and have found value in discussion with others. The issue is that this tends to be aimless and there's zero structure, which wastes a ridiculous amount of time.

I'd much rather complete an async update and then follow-up with an in-person meeting to talk about the things that were documented beforehand.

It's a much more efficient approach and you get better insights too.


> Some of the quietest people in the company had the most to say when they were behind a screen.

This is very much me. I am an introvert, and despite being a team lead, will get run over by louder more assertive folks. I'm learning to stick up for myself (only been a lead for 2 months) but it's a long road.

With an email or chat, I can reformulate what I mean to say multiple times. Refine my message and make it clearer and cite sources. I can also take the time to examine my emotions and motivations in creating the email, and sometimes just discard a whole email if I've managed to work through something myself.

Unfortunately for people like me, extroverts tend to be most visible so their preferred way of doing things, talking in meetings, is how a lot of business seems to be conducted.


You sound similar to me a few years back!

Here is what I did (suggested by a boss who was magic with meeting effectiveness), YMMV:

- Come to meetings with a short list of decisions to be made or expected contributions

- Bring suggested resolutions if I owned the meeting / was primary technical resource / team lead and had some to suggest -- and communicate that these are the default in absence of consensus or buy-in

- Put discussion time allotted stacked to each decision to be made (moderately flexible)

- Always end meetings early if no more content is to be discussed

Meeting agendas can be powerful.


And for managers, I suggest being diligent in a) making sure that the introverts get heard, and b) training everybody in making sure everybody gets heard.


I've been on teams for the last two years that use the Sprint Retrospective as a venting venue. Then the Scrum Master processes that into meaningful items that require resolution. Sometimes, the resolution is agreed within the same meeting (e.g. 'we have an internal communication problem' - discuss a bit - 'we can try $this next sprint'), sometimes it falls to an outside dependency (e.g. 'The Business doesn't trust us to estimate, but we have a proven track record' - scrum master agrees to take the concern to The Business.)

Managers are not permitted at these meetings, because they should be "safe."


Retrospectives are a common place for this, and I think a fairly healthy one. They're limited in a way that meetings aren't, and they're already structured to take informal comments and process them into useful actions. I've seen too many meetings that amounted to "complaining about external blockers", and unlike retros there's almost never a useful followup.

I've never seen "managers aren't permitted", but I suppose it depends on the level of manager - as long as everyone present got their hands relatively dirty on the project, things seem to go well.


I think well-structured retrospectives are way better than 1:1s for this in that they let people express feelings, but channel those into choosing and pursuing productive actions.

In particular, for the get-the-feelings activities, the Retromat has a number of good items in the "set the stage" and "gather data" categories. E.g., Weather Report is good for a quick feeling survey: https://retromat.org/en/?id=2

Or you can do Satisfaction Histogram or Amazon Review to collect reactions to specific topics: https://retromat.org/en/?id=87 and https://retromat.org/en/?id=18


Since this is Swedish study, I just want to point out that Swedish organizational culture is very meeting and consensus oriented.

Nordic cultures may seem very similar, but their organizational cultures are different even within the same company. Others are often frustrated about Swedes and their endless meetings. Finns in the meeting are 'OK. lets do this.' and Swedes reply 'But Jan-Erik has not shared his point of view yet.'


So true! I work across Scandinavia and there are definitely more consensus forming meetings in Sweden than elsewhere, even. Having previously worked in US & UK companies I'm still not used to it and I often feel like banging my head against the table and crying out "Will somebody please make a decision!". But of course this is Sweden, no single person will make a decision. I'm sure they think I'm terribly rude.


Heh sounds like you've maybe run across something quantified in the Hofstede leadership studies, commissioned by IBM when they first wanted to become an international globocorp.

What you're feeling is the difference between a collectivist leadership culture and an individualist leadership culture. Collectivist cultures value leaders who generate power through _maintaining relationships_, whereas individualist leaders prioritise leadership via _authority_. Think of it as accruing power in the edges vs the nodes of the social graph.

Fun fact: countries whose leader cultures are more individualist (e.g. America) are MUCH more likely to have whole populations who agree highly with "economic growth is important above all else", whereas collectivist leader nations (e.g., Taiwan, Finland) have a general populace who agree less highly with that phrase, but MORE highly with "ecological sustainability and environmental stewardship are important".

So while correlation doesn't prove causation, it may be the case that American-style individualist leadership culture is in opposition to our shared goals of non extinction :) but that's maybe a leap.

The whole study is really rad. Oh, and more bonus: collectivist leadership style correlates highly with feminine leadership style (another axes of Hofstede study)

EDIT: a-ha! Found the source: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40836056?seq=1#page_scan_tab_co...


Thanks for sharing. It's certainly food for thought. I was trying to picture this sort of leadership by consensus applied in different parts of the world where I've lived. Although it might work with some success in a few places, in most I could only foresee catastrophe. Then I was reminded that Sweden has a really good education system. Maybe there's another lesson to draw here, that in order for consensus (democracy?) to work, it's worth ensuring that the minds that will voice their perspective actually have the ability to work out the issues.


Intruiging, thanks for the summary and link to sources. I'll have to give that a read.



>> Swedish organizational culture is very meeting and consensus oriented.

How does that work ? do people get a say regardless of their status ? do good ideas really rise up ?

Or does it just become a different type of political game ?


This explains so much!

I was recently working on an infrastructure deployment with a team in Sweden and those of us from the US could not understand why everything took a commitee to do anything outside the norm.

Like, no individual would just do a task or make a command decision unless a broader team was engaged.

The work got done but, yeesh.


I would love to hear similar anecdotes about how Japanese meetings tend to be.


Ask and you shall receive, my favorite horror story: https://www.kalzumeus.com/2014/11/07/doing-business-in-japan...


This was such an interesting read thanks for posting it!


"Yet to suppose that President Hoover was engaged only in organizing further reassurance is to do him a serious injustice. he was also conducting one of the oldest, most important --- and, unhappily, one of the least understood --- rites in American life. This is the rite of the meeting which is called not to do business but to do no business. It is a rite which is still much practiced in our time. It is worth examinging for a moment.

Men meet together for many reasons in the course of business. They need to instruct or persuade each other. They must agree on a course of action. They find thinking in public more productive or less painful than thinking in private. But there are at least as many reasons for meetings to transact no business. Meetings are held because men seek companionship or, at a minimum, wish to escape the tedium of solitary duties. They yearn for the prestige which accrues to the man who presides of meetings, and this leads them to convoke assemblages over which they can preside. Finally, there is the meeting which is called not because there is business to be done, but because it is necessary to create the impression that business is being done. Such meetings are more than a substitute for action. They are widely regarded as action.

-- John Kenneth Galbraith, The Great Crash, 1929, pp 138-139.


Wasn't it Microsoft Japan that realized meetings were naturally crunched down to strictly useful ones when they went to a 4 day work week? Then more time was spent doing real, actual work and then workers being able to ACTUALLY relax at home or doing something truly therapeutic... like not being at fucking work. Not this bullshit "you can relax at work" crap. Oh, and their employees felt ACTUALLY better and ACTUALLY less stressed. I feel like this "study" is more a focus-group bullshit attempt to fight off the results of a 4 day work week.

The world is getting silly. Not because of studies like this. But because people actually agree with obvious bullshit like this. I feel like I'm taking damn crazy pills.


Many meetings are extremely important for me as a manager.

Very few of the meetings are about “deciding things”, rather they are about aligning views. As a manager I see my role as setting up meetings so that the most qualified peoples views properly influences the right stake holders. When everyone aligns on what problem to solve and how to solve it there are generally no need to take any decisions, since work gets efficiently done and few issues pops up that are not automatically solved by way of previously achieved alignment.

While using this strategy, what generally drives more meetings are: 1) Managers and other power holders that cares more about their importance and status than the work. 2) The parts of the staff that are dissatisfied and don’t like their work. In many of these cases, they have been obviously neglected/abused by management before and don’t feel trust in the organization.


I thought Wrike had a pretty good infographic on deciding whether or not to have a meeting: https://d3tvpxjako9ywy.cloudfront.net/blog/content/uploads/2...

Basically you should have a meeting if:

* It can't be solved by collaborating outside a meeting

* Everyone is needed to participate

* The group has authority to act

* There is a clear agenda and goals

* Someone can be the facilitator

I have found that if a meeting has all those elements than a lot can get done very quickly, rather than having ideas bounce around email or slack for weeks!


This sounds accurate to my now recently-ex company. The number of meetings have soared, to the point where they probably spend 2-3 days per two week "sprint" (it's really more of a hobbled walk) in project meetings. Not just the absurd number of project managers (currently 1 PM to every 2 programmers, I believe), but the whole team. And what's weird is that when you're in the office, it doesn't feel out of place, but if you're actually trying to be productive it's a horror-show. I had a 3 hour meeting a few weeks back, and then another meeting directly after it which was a summary of the previous meeting.

Add to that the fact that 90% of the company are incapable of being on time to those meetings, and you can probably guess as to one of the reasons I'm moving on to another company. The meetings are usually also at short notice and the person who requests it will universally be late to their own meeting.

I see excessive meetings and calls as a failure of written communication skills. The people I see organising the most meetings are also those who are least adept at understanding writing, and the worst at communicating via it themselves. There's definitely an art to being a good written communicator, and maybe there should be more emphasis placed on it when recruiting in tech roles.


I must work at the same place


Lots of meetings can also be a sign of churn. If people can’t make decisions, or consistently flip flop on decisions, it can be reflected in lots of (ultimately pointless) meetings.


True story:

A project I was on earlier in the year was full on Agile, with constant meetings - daily standups, weekly retrospectives, weekly scrum-of-scrums, weekly reviews/demos, bi-weekly product backlog refinements, weekly story refinements, weekly product backlog planning, weekly sprint planning, frequent meetings about git branching strategies and near daily "way of working" meetings. And of course there were some relatively meaningful small meetings closely related to actual development work.

Everyone was losing the will to live, including myself - there simply wasn't enough time to actually work!

I had a word with the project manager, and with a totally casual manner he said: "OK, let's have a meeting with the whole team to discuss it".


It's easy to poke fun but this seems like a 100% reasonable response when the alternative is changing the entire schedule of the entire team based on the feedback of a single person. And it doesn't seem like any one person should be attending all of these meetings (agreed it's definitely too many though).


> It's easy to poke fun but this seems like a 100% reasonable response when the alternative is changing the entire schedule of the entire team based on the feedback of a single person

So, it's meant to be an amusing anecdote on HN; I haven't told the entire story of the project :) The PM had heard this from several other team members alread, several times. The difference is I was tech lead, so he listened a bit more to me, and I was also quite adamant this time (I'd tried to tell him more politely numerous times).

> And it doesn't seem like any one person should be attending all of these meetings

Bingo, this was the biggest problem - the project manager in particular was bad for telling irrelevant people to join meetings.


All those meetings are necessary if you do by the book scrum. But usually it's the tech lead role that's most important to have attend. Did the whole team attended each of these?


Often, yes, or if not the whole team it was most of it.


This is probably controversial, but I generally disagree with the popular HN sentiment that great progress is accomplished by groups of people working together in teams. My view is that the greatest work is done in isolation by individuals, with the occasional conference to stay up-to-date on new ideas. This isn’t to say that individuals accomplish great feats entirely on their own (which undoubtedly is almost never the case), but merely that almost all productive work is done independently.

If I ran my own company, I would ban almost all meetings and limit the most crucial ones to 15 minutes tops. And while my company might fail due to a misplaced sense of schadenfreude, it’s a risk I’m willing to take to get experimental verification of whether meetings are actually as valuable as everyone claims they are.


I work with people like that. They’re extremely siloed and they make decisions in a vacuum. It always ends up creating problems for everyone else. Then when we actually do have meetings, they don’t want to collaborate or discuss, they just want everything immediately, end of discussion. It doesn’t work.

If you don’t want to work with other people, move out into the woods.


I call BS. Meetings make me lose the will to live & drove me to quitting my job multiple times. If you want to make sure I don''t do anything during the day, put in a meeting in the middle of it.

Perhaps it helps people who have pointless jobs that create no value?


I call your BS call :)

There is nothing better than a day with nicely spaced meetings

My current Project on every second wednesday:

10:00-10:30 Daily Standup

11:00-12:00 Architect Jour Fix

12:00-12:30 Lunchbreak

13:00-14:00 Sprint Retro

15:00-16:00 Sprint Planning

Most of the gaps have a reason (conflicting meetings, etc) We use those gaps to "transfer knowledge". That basically means we sit in the cafeteria chatting about work or non-work relatet stuff, planning our weekends, etc.


Wait, you're actually putting that forward as a good day? That boggles my mind...if you come in at 9, get settled, you have maybe 45 minutes to work. Then, until 14-15, you have NO one hour stretch, then you have just one more stretch from 16-17...when do you actually code?? Don't you need a couple hours of focused time?


As an Architect, I'd rather have six hours of meetings, and one hour of documentation, than eight hours straight of being at a computer. In some jobs - meetings are the work. Meetings are influencing, are negotiating, are discussing, are communicating. And all of that is best done face to face.


That's orthogonal to the fragmentation. Probably two thirds of my job is meetings, but I'm ruthless about compacting them so that the remaining third isn't a scattered forty five minutes at a time


> Wait, you're actually putting that forward as a good day?

sure. Its better this way. otherwise i would have those meetings scattered across a complete week. and tbh, days like this come every two weeks. its not every day. most days its 15min daily standup in the morning and sometimes a refinement of 30m.

>...when do you actually code??

i come in at around 7-7:30, code until ~10, go home after the last meeting.


I assume he's coding on the other days of the week.


Terrifying schedule. I can handle maybe an hour of two of meetings per day, max two days per week. Daily meetings are a non starter for me.


its not daily. its one day every two weeks.


The standup is still daily though, right?


yes


So long as that's only every Sprint planning day, I think there's value in having that "rest" day. I'd hope that instead it serves as a time to get the "low-effort" tasks done as well, such as finishing documentation, reviewing a task you put off, collaborating on issues that will inform the later planning, and other corporate tasks that we all have to do once in a while. If we all had a day to put that in, I think there would be value. (And yes, some of that time should be bonding with other coworkers!)

However, I think your intent was to suggest it was a great day because no "real work" was done.


>12:00-12:30 Lunchbreak

Too short. An hour or bust. Actually, I am quite serious about. It's great to have time, go out and eat - business lunch in the area are decent to put it mildly.


I am very militant about my lunchtime, and view eating a sandwich in front of a screen as a form of peasantry.

I often shoo away people with "this is a human right"


For perspective: the people cooking your business lunch probably don't get a break of any kind, let alone a 30 or 60 minute lunch.


My experience is that they do get/eat food at the places they work. Much shorter breaks of course but the point "any kind" doesn't stand. They also work shifts, often times 12h ones. They also likely earn less as well. (side note: it's wrong to assume everyone lives in NA; tipping is rather rare here)

Also perspective: staying overnight, while uncommon, to address production issues doesn't translate, either.


You can compress this for one team by starting at 9am and run the meetings back to back until they're over, no time blocks. Standup -> retro -> planning -> grooming, or architecture -> design -> implementation, etc.

I've seen stand-up, retro, and planning completed in 30 minutes. We used the extra hour and 45 minutes for productivity. On cadence days we get half the day back.


When do you do actual work?


The other 9 days.


I learned long ago I only have about 30 hours of good code per week in my. So I need more than one hour of meetings every day just to make up the 40 hours I'm expected to be at work.

It helps to remember that I'm paid the same to attend a meeting as to do work.


I've had times when a pointless meeting with too many participants was a welcome break. Of course, just reducing the work week and having more free time would be a lot better. But I'll take what I can get.


This articles reminds me of Parkinson's Law: "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson's_law

Without efficient ways of doing things managers want more people doing things like them. Like the traffic problem doesn't get better with more lanes.


Exactly and the point I was going to make, and pointed at in the article (toward the end).

Uncosted inputs will be used to the limits of tolerance of costed inputs.

Time is a near-universal uncosted input, at least in internal allocation.


One of the things you realize quickly as you manage is that there is a more bimodal distribution of preferences for socializing among engineers. I don't want to fall into stereotypes, but there are some people that don't like meetings (aggressively) and are pretty outspoken about it.

There are a number of people that kind of enjoy it as a form of socializing. That obviously doesn't apply to overly long, poorly structured meetings that waste time. But a sizeable (mostly) silent group of people appreciate reasonably scheduled and structured meetings in the way described in this article. To each their own.


I don’t like meetings because they are not „productive time“, but I do like them because they do, as you wrote, fulfill my socialization needs. Onsite meetings work way better for me in that regard.


As unpopular as it might be - I kinda like open offices for this reason. (work type dependent).

Having the 4x mission critical managers sitting in a cluster & overhearing each other's conversations did wonders for keeping everyone on the same wavelength - without meetings.

[offtopic]

Was a bit of an eye opener how powerful that can be. 40 man team, insane yearly sprint-like pressure for 2.5 months solid. Everything continuously on fire basically...but it's fine as long as the center holds. Also had an interesting effect on team morale - they're a lot happier to charge into battle if they're confident leadership is unified.


WTF? Venting might be arguably beneficial in some cases, but in many companies employees don't get to vent in a meeting.

Rather, they have to endure demands, complaints and display of status from management - which is the opposite of therapy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness

One of the reasons of pointless meeting is to keep busy and appear busy - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullshit_Jobs


The article is, in part, suggesting that it's exactly those kind of status-conscious people who benefit from 'meeting therapy':

"Academics from the University of Malmo in Sweden say meetings provide an outlet for people at work to show off their status or to express frustration."

But yep, that might not be ideal for a participant who would prefer to be making progress on something else. I've seen a bunch of tech companies start to suggest to employees that they can and should leave meetings if they don't feel like their presence is important.


"outlet for people at work" hints that benefits everybody, or the majority.

"outlet for management" sounds quite different.


Yep; I'd imagine that's an intentional distinction by the author. Some people might act this way regardless of whether they move between a management or individual contributor role.


In fact one of the easiest way to get disinvited from such meetings and get a less-good performance review next time around is to make a bit of noise about the utility of such meetings (edit: from my personal/anecdotal experience). Serendipity is good.


Sounds like the management - who are also employees - are the ones who get to vent.


There's an interesting hatred of meetings by software engineers, and I think it's to far on the hatred spectrum. There's definitely a lot to hate about meetings and they are very poorly run in general. But the argument of "when do you do actual work!" is not a good one. If you run an organization of 200 people, it's a lot more effective for 25 people to spend all of their time making the efficiency of the team, and impact of the team on the business as high as possible, than it is to increase the team size to 225. If those 25 people can, through messy meetings, debates, and emotional outbursts, somehow make 200 ppl twice as effective, that's great!

I think a better framing for meetings is not by looking at the battle, but the war. Individually, yeah it can suck. But the goal is to ensure a large amount of individuals march in the same direction, toward the same goal, and are progressing the business forward. Some amount of work is needed for that.

Let's optimize for maximizing that impact, not how "good" the process feels.


Coding takes an enormous amount of concentration and headspace. Meetings are context switches that make retaining focus much harder. That’s why coders hate them.


They aren't therapy for me. It takes me a while to get into the zone if I'm doing anything that I would consider "creative" as far as coding. Incessant meetings break up my day into chunks that aren't useful. I don't mind status meetings but a recent job turned into 3 or 4 meetings a day for half and hour at a time and that destroys my day and creates a lot of stress. I think sending a status to the team once a day is fine. If you want my attention email me and we'll set something up. This public flogging that managers like to pull at meetings really is stress inducing.


I feel fairly alarmed and skeptical at the idea of managers being therapists, not because I think it’s a bad idea — in fact I think it ought to be a good one — but because in my experience, most of the folks asking for your vulnerability in the business world aren’t willing to off any in turn.


No, its not the managers who are therapists. Everyone forced to go to their meetings are providing free therapy for them.


I have found that our daily standup calls are fairly therapeutic for those involved. Occasionally, a call will start with a very salty conversation regarding some topic from the prior day or concerns around schedules, but every single time it eventually evolves into a productive call. Sometimes this takes 20 seconds, sometimes this takes 20 minutes. I have a bad habit of trying to pre-empt or quench a salty exchange in progress, which usually escalates the situation further. I've found the best thing someone on the sidelines of a heated or otherwise pointless exchange can do is to come up with a completely different topic, or propose some sort of compromise. But, at the end of the day it can really help some people when you just let them yell it out for a few minutes on the phone. Doing this all the time is obviously not healthy for team dynamics, but there is always some happy medium between extremes.

One other thing that can help a lot is to have structured calls and ways for people to flag things for mandatory discussion. If I am on a call that starts going sideways, having some established process where I can say something like "Hey guys, can we take a look at <some bucket of flagged items>?" can very quickly right the ship. What this does is effectively remind everyone that we are here to do a job with certain degree of professionalism and diligence. Everyone also has a vested interest in getting to the bucket of review items, because these are usually the topics creating the most stress day-to-day, and talking through them with the team is an excellent means to relieve much of that stress.


It's therapy for the worst kinds of people. For productive people, meetings are horrible; akin to sitting there and watching a bunch of monkeys howling and banging on their chests to maximize the amount of bananas that they're going to get at the end of the month.


> Academics from the University of Malmo in Sweden say meetings provide an outlet for people at work to show off their status or to express frustration.

Yup, see this all the time, and it's one of the reasons I try to avoid most of them. Nothing gets done, half the people aren't really prepared, and the usual outcome is the guys with the biggest egos sound off and make themselves feel important and everyone else just has a good old moan.

It may be therapy for them, but I'd rather not be there, thanks!


"Many managers don't know what to do," he says, and when they are "unsure of their role", they respond by generating more meetings.

Another reason that we should have less managers and instead elevate engineers into dual engineer/executive positions.


I once talked to a manager about how meeting seemed like a waste of time, he said he loved meetings because it meant people were working together and getting things done.

That made me think, that meetings were about making people feel that their work was meaningful when it wasn't. Basically, if you do meaningful work, you don't need meetings, but if its the other way around, meetings make total sense.


The problem with that is it is very easy for someone to get a lot of work done in something useless. It is very easy to keep adding more and more features to product X not realizing the the product will never sell enough to make the investment in releasing it worth it: you would be just as useful to the company by taking a nap. Meetings are how you get everybody on the same page on these things. Of course if it is obvious the product won't pay off you send a memo to everyone. However more likely it is a combination of the marketing person doing some productions of sales, engineering projecting how much effort is left, and then someone senior deciding if we need to invest anyway because the loss leader is still worth it for other reasons...

None of this is to say you are wrong though.


The problem I experience with meetings is that often times the information presented is only tangentially related to you.

I hate it when I’m in a meeting and it ends up a conversation between two people. It’s stressful if you have an expectation to get something done but also an expectation to sit in a meeting you realize really doesn’t pertain to you.


Once upon a time, this was the point of circulating 'minutes' or a summary after meetings.

Outside of some special cases (e.g. the Federal Reserve), they're specifically meant to reflect conclusions, not the full course of discussion. Back-and-forth that reaches an answer isn't needed, and a debate that ends unresolved would just read as a summary of the positions. That way, you can invite the people who need to speak in a meeting, while anyone who just needs to be informed about the result can catch up from a shorter, async source.

It seems like easy video recording and calling have been one reason for the decline - minutes were handy if someone couldn't make the meeting, but now they can dial in or watch it afterwards. That's great for not having to create a summary, but I think it loses much of the value of a concise, written record of what happened.


Depends on the minutes. I've seen some where the entire minutes where things like "Heard the report from the director of X on the state of Y". I would like to know if the department in question is a useful use of my tax dollars, so I really want to know what the state of Y is, but I'll probably need to do a FOIA request to get it.


The number of people who have ever watched/listened to a business meeting after it occurred is vanishingly small.


I guess it depends how big your team is and how big the company is.

Working on a small team at my current company I don't have this issue at all. I remember when working at IBM that was my main gripe.


So uninvite yourself and leave. I do it all the time.


We have a 1hr weekly with just the SWE's that is definitely therapeutic. We basically just poke fun at whatever stupid things happened during the week, while still keeping our teammates abreast of our progress on tasks. It's 1 hr once per week and I definitely want to take it to my next workplace


"People often feel marginalised. They feel that they have no influence or position. In these cases, the perception is that meetings do not improve anything, but actually cause even more frustration."

Literally the last paragraph hits the nail on the head for, I'd wager, the vast majority of people.


I agree with you, but I want to add some precision to this. In some meetings I feel powerless, and I find them absolutely horrible. In other meetings I have a voice anytime I want to use it, and I feel powerful, and I wouldn't miss them for anything less than a diarrhea poisoning incident.

Edit: In most meetings I feel neutral and disaffected.


The text kind of reads to me like those meetings are therapeutic mostly for the people that cannot really justify having a job there to begin with... This really reminds me of David Graeber's "Bullshit Jobs" and the solution to that would be a restructuring of society that doesn't require being in an employer/employee situation to be a valuable part of society.


Important context quote: “Instead he says there has been a rise of managerial roles, which are often not very well defined, and where "the hierarchy is not that clear".“

So this article doesn’t apply to tech-focused organizations. For sure, meetings are still relevant there, but should trend to fewer not more


> Prof Hall says as a result, meetings can become "maligned somewhat unnecessarily". But he argues that negativity towards meetings can be because their real purposes are misunderstood... the real purpose of such meetings might be to assert the authority of an organisation, so that employees are reminded that they are part of it. Such meetings are not really about making any decisions, he says.

We're supposed to feel less negativity towards meetings once we realize that its a way for the organization to assert its power over us? Reading this article only made me feel more negativity toward meetings, not less. What kind of an egotistical blowhard would prefer wasting his team's time and productivity, just to assert his own power and feel better about himself


I would argue that the purpose is not tyranny, but to make you feel like you are part of a team, and that people's progress is being checked on.

If tou start feeling "whether I do honest work or slack, it makes no difference" you might start losing motivation.


That's only some meetings ("Many regular, internal meetings") which are speculated to be mere demonstrations of authority. Not all meetings fall in this category, and it seems useful (and good for your happiness) to be able to discern these when deciding which meetings are worth your time to attend.


Can anyone find the original paper? The press release is here: https://mau.se/en/news/work-meetings-have-an-unwarranted-bad...


The Swedish version of the press release (https://mau.se/nyheter/arbetslivets-moten-har-ofortjant-dali...) has a reference; it seems to be a book:

Mötesboken : Tolkningar av arbetslivets sammanträden och rosévinsmingel, by Malin Åkerström, Vesa Leppänen & Patrik Hall. (ISBN 978-91-984203-6-4)

https://lup.lub.lu.se/search/publication/06a08c62-a8f3-43cc-...


In other words, more and more people are being employed in pointless jobs.

There isn't enough actual work to go around, but everyone needs to be "employed". And since they subconsciously know that their jobs are pointless, they need to justify their existence through posturing and status and "visibility" and report production (which nobody reads) and endless meetings. Lots of activity, but little actual achievement. Middle management only ever grows @1, because everyone in the middle is in the same boat, and having more people under you makes you more important and less likely to lose your job or have your department cut.

@1: With the exception of the massive job purges the mega-corporations do once a decade or so.


Oh I have no doubt that they're therapy... for certain people who need therapy. I even referred to a certain recurring meeting recently that always tends to be mostly a particular guy talking, as his therapy session. So I feel vindicated now!


We are a manufacturing facility and the amount of meetings to discuss how to best implement LEAN, 6S, and kaizen has become comical. Many of these meetings indeed turn into complaint fests between managers from different groups.


Makes me think of Ray Dalio on transparency and 'meaningful work'. I agree that people want to vent and be heard but as others have noted meetings turn into a way for management to reinscribe control and turn complaints back on the complainant (Learned helplessness,etc)

If we need meetings to define our job then that is pretty unclear management. If you dont see how your role pertains to the overall goals of the org and need meetings to figure this out then there is a general disfunction.

Meaningful work and the ability to give and receive feedback. Less meetings.


I'm not sure meetings in most organizations are the result of people 'asserting authority' or people 'unsure of their role'. Almost no managers are calling meetings to fulfill some hidden agenda or personal gratification. Most are called by people who are legitimately trying to solve a problem.

They're just a product of a lazy/ineffective management style.

The problem is, proper task delegation requires a lot of work:

1. understanding the problem (probably the hardest problem)

2. understanding the organization and resources

3. breaking down the problem

4. assigning tasks appropriately

5. managing time, both of the process, and the delegates of the tasks.

When a manager does this properly, it's not a very 'visible' process, so nobody really knows they've done all this work.

Alternatively, lazy managers can just call everyone into a room and let them figure out everything. It doesn't require any upfront planning or understanding of the problem. And it comes with the bonus of high-visibility.

TL;DR: meetings are the result of lazy management.


The article lacks one important detail: number of companies studied. Because frankly, it sounds a lot like n=1, and generalizing from one (or possibly a few) dysfunctional examples is a fallacy.

And even if there were an overall trend: not addressing other scenarios seems like a substantial omission regardless.

The article makes it sound like the whole world needs status validation and/or a place to vent. I know enough places where stuff like that gets shut down, hard.


If you’re a meeting maker, one thing to consider is that a one hour meeting for eight people is equivalent (maybe at a minimum) to 12 hours work. Ask yourself, if I could achieve what that meeting will achieve by spending 12 hours working alone in a room, would I see that as a good use of my time? Because that’s what you’re doing. Meetings had better be damn important and genuinely require active participation from all attendees.


There’s also the class of pointless meeting where nontechnical managers don’t understand what they’re responsible for so use them to as a way to “manage by feel”. They call them to see what people’s reactions are to fishing questions to judge the situation, and to use them as training sessions. These I find to be the most counterproductive meetings.


People should decline pointless meetings.


An interesting idea...supposedly at Tesla and SpaceX, Elon recommended that anyone who found a meeting to be pointless should get up and leave immediately. I don't know if that's still the practice, maybe someone from those companies can chime in.


That has presumably worked _for Elon_...


David Marcus (FB, previously PayPal) had (has?) a similar stated policy regarding meetings.


If my meetings happened as described with no one rescheduling or derailing them then actually my meeting life would be fine.

I want to go to the meetings described on my calendar.

But nearly every time “It’s a trap!”


What if it's pointless to you, but someone else needs to hear the status because they need to decide what's important to tell the vice president?


Do you mean the Bee-Watcher wants to know what to tell the Bee-Watcher-Watcher?


I no-shit had a manager that made zero decisions or contributions, but wanted detailed notes on what we were doing so that he could take credit for our work in meetings.


The ideas are not knew here, and I am largely sympathetic, but it's really funny to hear what is usually normally presented in David Graeber "you should relate to this and be mad" form here presented presented in dry "studies show..." form.


I don't disagree with the article. Without articulating it, I always thought so--precisely that makes many meetings so infuriating for me personally. I don't have the job title of therapist or actor/background extra.



Isn't this title a contradiction? They aren't pointless meetings if they are therapeutic for the attendees. Now, what about pointless AND non-therapeutic, is that possible?


Sounds like a local maximum at the organisational scale.


This reminds me of open-plan offices. What a nightmare.


If your meetings are non productive blame yourself and start proposing topics thay result in actionable innovations.


Pointless work meetings always fatigue me quickly...


yxIjdy;6;d


It makes sense, since most therapy is about as useful as pointless work meetings.




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