Through my professional life I have encountered numerous ways on how people and organizations manage meetings. Even though it may seem a straightforward thing, meeting culture should be developed.

I will focus on BlockBen’s meeting culture and on its evolution. I do not intend to provide a thorough literature review; I just share my experiences and a couple of current articles and blogs that I find interesting.

At BlockBen we generally have 5 types of meetings.

(a)    Weekly meetings
on Mondays to discuss what we have done the week before and to look at the week ahead. We also discuss completed and upcoming tasks with BlockBen’ s management who participate in these meetings. This is a scheduled weekly meeting.

(b)    Project status meetings
are to discuss matters around an upcoming, existing or closing project. Depending on the phase and the complexity of the project, a certain level of stakeholder involvement is required at these meetings, but we try to be very careful about attendants to avoid sidetracking and trolling. But I’ll get to that later. 😊 This is a scheduled meeting, in accordance with project needs.  

(c)     Scoping and Risk meetings
– very interesting ones, unique to our company structure. Such meetings are designed to allow us to develop ideas, briefs...etc. into a scope and be able to assess risks associated with the new proposed project.

(d)    Decision making and problem solving meetings
are designed to address new decisions requested and occasionally ad-hoc issues that come up during normal business operations completely unexpected. This type of meeting is either scheduled or ad-hoc.

(e)   Innovative meetings
are probably the most important ones at BlockBen when we consider the diversity of our teams and the level of desired engagement that each colleague is comfortable with. Sometimes these meetings can be scheduled, but unfortunately evidence shows that the best innovative meetings are ad hoc, and many times are out of the standard working hours. It makes sense though, as you can’t really expect anyone to come up with a breakthrough idea every fortnight on Tuesdays at 4 p.m.. 😊 Never underestimate the power of organic, informal meetings. If the idea that we came up with seems adequate and stayed on foot through an ad-hoc innovative meeting, usually a formal, scheduled scoping and risk meeting follows to discuss details.

I don’t want to seem like I am on a high horse, but I believe we have got pretty good at running our meetings and filtering through the organization and the whole idea behind them. During the years, I have seen a lot of rookie mistakes and I am happy to share the most common ones:

1. I find it very annoying when people hold meetings only for the sake of it. Not only is it very toxic to the person pushing these meetings but also has a detrimental impact on the culture. The first question you need to ask yourself: do you really need a meeting? OR, is it enough to share thoughts through a chat app we use for communication, so a prompt response is given and no one’s valuable time is wasted?

2. Sidetracking is probably one of the worst things that can occur on a meeting. You sit down to discuss a certain matter in accordance with a meeting agenda in-mind, and it turns out that new, un- or partially related matters come up and the entire meeting is lost. This is the “perfect” way to kill an entire meeting, sidetrack everyone, leave the original agenda unattended and start a meeting about something completely different. Of course, you want to encourage feedback and discussion, but also want to make sure that your meeting is not off-track.

3. In case of less organized colleagues it may also occur that they mix up the type of meetings they are attending. This is strongly related to sidetracking, but it can be even be worse – imagine a weekly meeting when everyone is prepared to discuss previous week’s tasks and looking at upcoming matters and out of a sudden you realize that someone started actually scoping a new project. It will lead to nowhere obviously and frustration will kick in from everyone.

4. Attending a meeting unprepared is not only impolite but kills the entire meeting. Imagine you have no idea about the status of your project and forgot to gather information on how your team members progressed with their tasks.

5. Meeting stalkers 😊 I’m not sure what’s the motive, but some people just randomly sneak up on others and pop the question: “can we have a meeting real fast?” We very much encourage open communication within BlockBen, but a random immediate meeting inquire can throw anyone off the track if it turns out there was no actual reason for that meeting.

6. It is well known that nothing lasts forever…well, sometimes I have felt that a meeting does. Due to numerous obvious reasons, poorly managed meetings can run for hours and hours. In my view, no meeting should last more than 60 minutes, except for those in the UN Security Council, where they decide whether to use military force against a country or not. Doodle has done a research based on 19 million meetings. They asked 6500 professionals and their results are shocking:

-          Professionals spend 2 hours a week on pointless meetings.

-          Average professionals spend 3 hours on meetings per week ---> 2/3 of                           meetings are pointless.

-          Pointless meetings costs 541 billion dollars’ worth of resources per year.

*You can find Doodle’s articles here and here.

I very much share the same view as other efficient professionals’ have experienced. Appr. 40% of the meetings should be completed within 15-30 minutes, and another 40% of meetings should be completed in 30-60 minutes.  

7. Participants that are bored or don’t seem they want to be present have negative impact on meetings. You should always ask yourself: why is this person bored or does something else on the meeting? Should that person really be there? Or is it just a simple attention/focus issue? Or the person is trying to work on something else while they should be part of the meeting? IF you are confident that the meeting is held right and the person should really be there, you might consider a few drastic methods like my friend did back in the day in Australia – ban phones and laptops from meetings so they have no other option but to participate. 😊

Also, after the thousands of meetings we have been through we have observed a lot on how people react on meetings, and we have learnt what to do to keep things on track:

Respect time. On tight schedules, delays might occur but respecting other participants’ time is vital.

And most importantly, the shorter the meeting is, the more equal participants will remain. As a general observation, I have finally learnt that the longer the meetings are, the less equal the participants will become. This is probably the most toxic thing that an open minded, agile, project-based organization could allow to happen. As time passes by during a meeting, the highest pay grade person in the room (we can also say the person being highest in the hierarchy) will more likely to push through their ideas and dominate others on the meeting due  to the nature of fear, organizational behavior and the simple psychology of dominance. Well, in some cases it might be necessary, but I can assure you that in most cases this is the worst thing that can happen.

How to avoid this dominance? Well, limit meeting durations, have mature and responsible leaders with limited egos, and empower colleagues to openly discuss matters and be ok with disagreeing. Obviously, this view may be considered only in context and I am not encouraging organizational anarchy, but certain type of meetings – especially the creative, scope, innovation related ones – are run best by keeping this in mind.

Further readings: