Season 4 Episode 1 Feb 10, 2021

This Is How You Have Effective Meetings

Pitch

What's your objective?

Description

In this episode, we talk about how to have effective meetings with Andy Goodman, co-founder and director of The Goodman Center, who teaches a popular workshop called, “Meetings for People Who Hate Meetings.”

Hosts

Ben Halpern

Forem - Co-founder

Ben Halpern is co-founder and webmaster of DEV/Forem.

Jess Lee

Forem - Co-founder

Jess Lee is co-founder of DEV.

Guests

Andy Goodman

The Goodman Center - Director

Andy Goodman is co-founder of The Goodman Center and is an internationally recognized expert on storytelling. Along with the book, Storytelling as Best Practice, he is author of Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes and Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes. He also publishes a monthly journal, free-range thinking, to share best practices in the field of public interest communications.

Show Notes

Audio file size

60395356

Duration

00:41:56

Transcript

[MUSIC BREAK]

 

[AD]

 

[00:00:01] BH: New Relic helps engineering teams all over the world, visualize, analyze, and troubleshoot their software. Discover why some of the most influential companies trust the New Relic One Observability Platform for better uptime and performance, greater scalability, faster time to market, and more software. Go to developer.newrelic.com to find out more.

 

[00:00:23] Eyes glazed over from debugging a remote Kubernetes service? Instead, run your service locally in your favorite debugger and instantly find the problem. Ambassador Telepresence is the easiest way to debug micro services on Kubernetes. Spend more time fixing problems instead of reproducing them. Ambassador Telepresence is free to use for teams with unlimited developers. Get started today at getambassador.io/devdiscuss.

 

[00:00:48] Educative.io is a hands-on learning platform for software developers. Learn anything from Rust to system design without the hassle of setup or videos. Text-based courses let you easily skim back and forth like a book while cloud-based developer environments let you get your hands dirty without fiddling with an IDE. Take your skills to the next level. Visit educative.io/devdiscuss today to get a free preview and 10% off an annual subscription.

 

[00:01:16] A common scene in technology companies everywhere, big conference table with the CTO on one end, developer teams on the other, the showdown. We have an idea, “Will it get funded?” More companies are feeling the pressure to go faster and stay ahead of the competition. Projects that have long timelines or no immediate impact are hard to justify. DataStax is sponsoring a contest with real projects, real money, and real CTOs. If you have a Kubernetes project that needs a database, the winner will get funded with a free year of DataStax Astra. Follow the link in the podcast description to submit your project. It’s time to impress the CTO and get your project funded.

 

[AD ENDS]

 

[00:02:01] AG: And one of the things I found is that meetings are a real opportunity for organizations to communicate and work effectively and that meetings are an expression of culture.

 

[00:02:22] BH: Welcome to DevDiscuss, the show where we cover the burning topics that impact all our lives as developers. I’m Ben Halpern, a co-founder of Forem.

 

[00:02:30] JL: And I’m Jess Lee, also a co-founder of Forem. Today, we’re talking about how to have effective meetings with Andy Goodman, Co-Founder and Director of The Goodman Center, who teaches a popular workshop called “Meetings For People Who Hate Meetings”. Thank you so much for joining us, Andy.

 

[00:02:44] AG: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

 

[00:02:45] BH: Very excited to hear about all this. Can you start by giving us some background? What led you here?

 

[00:02:51] AG: Well, this was not where I supposed to end up. I moved to Los Angeles, which is where I am now in 1991, because I wanted to be a television writer. And I actually wrote for a network television for a number of years. I worked on a couple of shows. Back in the ‘90s, I worked on a show on the ABC Network called “Dinosaurs”.

 

[CLIP PLAYING]

 

[00:03:11] DINOSAUR: Again!

 

[00:03:12] DINOSAUR: Want to give daddy a kiss?

 

[00:03:14] DINOSAUR: Not the mama! Not the mama! Not the mama! Not the mama! Not the mama!

 

[00:03:19] AG: It’s now on the Disney Plus, and a show called The Nanny with Fran Drescher that was on CBS.

 

[00:03:25] WOMAN: I am your biggest fan!

 

[00:03:28] WOMAN: Oh, thank you. My God, you really do talk like that.

 

[00:03:34] AG: Did that for a number of years. That was a lot of fun. But actually I didn’t really love it. And so I got out of the TV business and I had a chance to go run a nonprofit for about five years, did that, and then started my own firm in 1998, working with nonprofits. So running an organization for five years and then consulting non-profit organizations for the last 23 years is what has exposed me to running meetings, participating in meetings, observing meetings, and suffering through tons of meetings and eventually deciding I need to do something about this and creating a workshop to help people have better meetings.

 

[00:04:09] BH: You don’t hear the story of folks who get into TV writing, have success, and feel like that’s not for them and they want to get into consulting. It’s sort of the anti-myth. Can you kind of speak to like how that path happened? And did you have self-awareness about how odd it was maybe to reach that goal and then actually realize it wasn’t for you?

 

[00:04:33] AG: I think part of it was being late to the game. When I got out here in 1991, got into my first writer’s room, I was 36 years old. And as I looked around the room and there were like seven or eight writers, the average age was probably 26. And so in my first year, in my first room, I was already the old man in the room. And so I was married. My son was a year and a half old. So when we would get to like six or seven o’clock at night, I was ready to go home. It’s like, “I want to go home and have dinner with my family,” whereas everybody else was, “Yeah, let’s stay and rewrite the script another 10 times and let’s bring in dinner.” For them, it was like a catered all-nighter. But for me, it was just agonizing, just staying there. So after three or four years of that, I just thought, “You know, had I gotten here 10 years earlier, maybe I could have endured this and built a career.” But after three or four years, I was like, “That’s enough. I need to do something a little bit more meaningful with my life.” And so I actually had a chance to go out. And the nonprofit that I ran was started by Norman Lear and some of his other colleagues out here. So it was a chance to run a nonprofit, but work with some very creative and really brilliant people. So that’s why I made the move.

 

[00:05:42] JL: So Andy, can you tell us more about The Goodman Center?

 

[00:05:45] AG: Yes. So I started The Goodman Center in ‘98 with the express purpose of helping people at nonprofits, foundations, government agencies, basically people working to make the world a better place, helping them communicate more effectively, both internally and externally. Externally, usually it’s communicating for fundraising or for advocacy. Internally, it’s communicating for staff relations, morale, and things like that. And one of the things I found is that meetings are a real opportunity for organizations to communicate and work effectively, and that meetings are an expression of culture that if you have a healthy culture, chances are you’ll probably have healthy, productive meetings. And if you don’t have a healthy culture, you’re going to see that in your meetings right away. So that became a focal point. We started teaching people about how to have better meetings. I think it goes back about 15 years.

 

[00:06:38] JL: What would you say are the anchors, indicators of a healthy, productive meeting?

 

[00:06:44] AG: You know, if you look at the literature, this is not just me talking, but a lot of the people who study meetings, write about meetings, et cetera, they’ll tell you that the single best predictor of a successful meeting is a well-prepared agenda, that if you see a meeting where the agenda covers all the things that need to be covered to prepare people to be effective in the meeting, to run the meeting, and even to guide the follow-up to the meeting, if it has all those elements, chances are you’re going to have a successful meeting. And also a well-prepared agenda would also indicate that the people who prepared it have given a lot of thought to this and know what goes into it. So that has always been the thrust of our teaching. Think about an agenda, not as just a list of topics that we’re going to cover today and here we go. Think of it more as the strategic plan for the next hour of your life.

 

[00:07:35] BH: Can you get into detail a little bit more about what goes into a well-constructed agenda? So that’s a bit high level. Can you dive into that a little bit?

 

[00:07:42] AG: Absolutely. Most people at the very top of the agenda is, the title of the meeting or the date and time, we’re going to meet in the conference room from 10 to 11 o’clock. Here is the list of people who are coming and here are the topics we’re going to cover and done. Right? That’s your agenda. Now those elements are all important, but that’s only part of the story. One of the things we teach people is that if you’re going to convene a meeting, the first thing you need to put in your agenda is the objective, a statement of objective. What is the purpose of this meeting? You would be shocked, well, maybe not, at the number of meetings where people arrive in the conference room, they all get around the table and they look at each other and they go, “What’s this meeting about again?” Right? Because all they have is an agenda list of topics, but they’re really not clear why they’re there. So a simple one or two sentence statement of this is why we’re here, this is what we need to accomplish today can make a huge difference in the success of meetings. It can clarify for the convener of the meeting, “This is what I need to accomplish,” and it can tell the people attending, “This is why you’re here.” It also might lead to some people saying, “That’s a great objective. You don’t have Ben on the list here. We really need Ben to achieve this objective. Can we add him to the list?” Or, “I see that you’ve got Jess on the list. Jess has nothing to do with this topic. I think you could exclude her from this meeting and save her the time.” So a clear statement of objective, for the convener, can clarify what I want to accomplish. For the attendees, you can let them know why they’re there and maybe who should be there and who shouldn’t. So that’s just one addition to an agenda form that a lot of people leave off.

 

[00:09:11] BH: Part of what the agenda does is allow you to make a choice about who maybe should or shouldn’t be in the meeting. But I imagine delivering that or settling on the idea that that’s part of the culture at all has its own challenge a little bit, like giving the agenda setter permission to decide like, “Hey, maybe this person actually doesn’t need to be here.” I could see in the wrong culture. It might be a bit political to exclude someone from a meeting or exclude them beyond the utilitarian element of what needs to be accomplished. From a perspective where it might not be normal to just say, “Hey, someone doesn’t need to be here” without it being a thing, how do you get there?

 

[00:09:54] AG: There’s no easy answer to that question. Ideally, what happens is you list the people who should be there and you circulate the agenda 24 to 48 hours in advance, allowing all the participants to comment and say, “Either I need to be here or I don’t need to be here.” Or, “I see you’ve got Ben listed and he shouldn’t be here.” Or, “You’ve got Jess listed and she’s actually on vacation. So we should take her off.” So with a 24 or 48-hour common period, it allows other people to chime in. Then it’s up to the convener to sort of take all of that feedback and decide, “Have I actually cast this meeting correctly?” Now I realize, in some cultures, there might be a pressure that to have more people there it’s like to err on the side of, “Let’s have people there just to be safe. We don’t want to rub anybody the wrong way by excluding them.” That’s a larger issue. Meetings are a reflection of culture, but what I’m trying to give you today is sort of a template that if you can make this stuff work, if you can make it stick, maybe you can start to shift the culture a little bit by shifting the way you have your meetings. It’s kind of like behavior change modification.

 

[00:10:57] JL: I think a lot of people maybe because they have some decision paralysis on who to invite. There’s that ever vague, like optional attendees. So you’re kind of inviting everyone, but then like half the group is optional and you leave it to that person, which is not super helpful. You answered my question that I was going to ask, which is like, “How far in advance do these agendas need to be sent out?” And 24 to 48 hours, for us, that is so ambitious. And I love that and I wonder if we will ever get there.

 

[00:11:26] AG: Well, I’m giving you a best case scenario. I’m going to strive for the best case and then you can tell me what’s realistic, and organizations themselves, when we work with them, we’ll lay this out for them. A lot of people say, “Well, in a perfect world, sure. But in our world, we never get to that, but let’s start with the best and we’ll work back from there.” So after you’ve listed the objective and the list of people who should be there, there’s another place on the agenda for, “How to prepare for this meeting? What documents should you have read? What materials should you bring?” There’s just a section on “called to prepare”. And so you include that too. What that avoids is people arriving at the meeting saying, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know I needed to bring that. I’m going to run back to my office and get that binder.” Or, “Oh, I supposed to read that memo. Let me read that real quick. Okay. Give me five minutes.” You want to avoid all of that. So in the agenda is how to prepare. So we have a section on that as well. Okay. So after you listed how to prepare, then you can list the topics that you intend to cover in order, the three, five, seven, ten topics, et cetera. But something new we add is to include a notation as to how the topic will be handled. If you look at research and how meetings function, generally, there are three kinds of activities in meetings, and they go by the acronym, IDA. “I” stands for information. That means I’m going to give you a straight download. I just need you guys to take notes. We’re not looking for discussion here. This is for me to inform you about something. So for example, if you’ve just gotten, let’s say, a new internal email system, I’m going to explain to you how it works. We’re not looking to have a robust discussion unless you have to have questions. That’s I. “D” is discussion, which means that we’re going to bring up a topic here where I need your feedback. I am bringing this up specifically to hear from you. What do you think? What are your comments, et cetera? Let’s have a discussion. And then the letter “A” stands for action, meaning that this item is going to lead to an action. We are going to make a decision. We are going to have a vote. We are going to set a date in the future for follow-up. So every item on the agenda has a letter or a series of letters next to it. So if the item has an “I” next to it, I know as an attendee just going to listen and take notes. If it has a “D”, I know that you want some feedback from me. If it has maybe I and D, I know it’s going to say, “I’m going to get some information, but then they’re going to want some feedback.” So all this does is to set the expectations of the participants, what do you expect from me in the meeting at this part?

 

[00:14:02] JL: On the action concept where there needs to be a decision made, I feel like that’s where a lot of people get stuck in their meeting, or you don’t get through the full agenda because you’re trying to make that one decision. Any advice on decision making in general and how to approach that?

 

[00:14:23] AG: According to a study by Intel, there are four different types of decisions that tend to get made in meetings. They’re called authoritative, consultative, voting, and consensus. So an authoritative decision is, “I’m the boss. This is my call. Here’s what we’re going to do.” Consultative is, “I’m the president. You’re my cabinet. I’ve gathered you here to get your opinions. Everyone speak up. Still my decision.” Voting is just what it sounds like. “Let’s take a vote.” And consensus is, “Let’s talk about this until we arrive at a decision that everyone’s happy with.” Now, interestingly, according to studies, one of these tends to be more problematic than the others after the meeting. And the answer, well, let me ask you, of these four styles, authoritative, consultative, voting, and consensus, which do you think according to the research tends to be the most problematic after the meeting?

 

[00:15:20] JL: I feel like my gut reaction would think consensus because I feel like it’s really hard to reach consensus and there will be people who maybe only agree because I felt like they had to and then there could be some passive aggression there.

 

[00:15:34] AG: Good. Ben, what do you think?

 

[00:15:36] BH: I would also guess consensus, although I’m sure authoritative has its own problems. But if I were to guess, I’d say consensus in case the wrong decision was made out of politeness or anything. But I’m really excited to hear what the answer is.

 

[00:15:52] AG: Well, according to the research, authoritative is not that problematic because it was never your decision to begin with. If the boss has made a decision that you don’t agree with, well, it’s the boss’s decision. We just have to live with it. Same thing with consultative. You’ve given your opinion, but it was never your decision to be made. And so once again, even if you don’t like it, it’s the boss’s decision. Consensus, which suggests that we have arrived at a decision that everyone’s agreed to, now I admit there might be some ashes of aggressive stuff behind that, but consensus generally suggests that everyone has been heard and that we’ve arrived at the best decision possible. Actually, the one that is the most problematic is voting, because with voting, a straight up and down, yes, no vote, there are winners and there are losers. And there are people who feel like, “I did not get what I wanted,” and they leave unsatisfied. And so when a meeting gets stuck and people have trouble arriving a decision, what a lot of leaders will say is, “Let’s take a vote. We’ll break the log jam. Let’s take a vote.” And the problem is that you get a yes, no vote and you get winners and losers. So what they recommend is trying a technique called “Gradients of Agreement”. And with Gradients of Agreement, what you do is you take a vote not to make a decision, but to see where everyone is. So you give them five choices. So rather than yes or no, the first choice is endorse, which means that’s a full-on yes, I like the idea. The second choice is endorse with reservations, which means I like the idea, I have some concerns. The third choice is abstain, which means I’m not sure. I’m Swiss. The fourth choice is disagree but don’t block, which means I don’t like the idea, but I’m not going to lay down in front of the train. And the fifth choice is veto, which means over my dead body.

 

[00:17:45] BH: That’s a great framework.

 

[00:17:46] AG: Yeah. So the idea of the framework is that you take a vote and you have everyone vote and then you report out the votes. So you might find that, for example, you could have a vote that was nine to one yes versus no, but those nine votes actually distributed over the first four categories, which are all problematic. It’s all like, “I’ve had some problems with it.” So the idea of Gradients of Agreement is to find out where people are, let them take a position, but then tease out the objections you have for discussion.

 

[MUSIC BREAK]

 

[AD]

 

[00:18:34] BH: Sick of your laptop overheating every time you try to run your Kubernetes application locally? With Ambassador Telepresence, you can intercept your services on your local machine so that you can develop on your services as if your laptop was running in the cluster. Never worry about running out of memory again no matter how complex your Kubernetes application gets. Ambassador Telepresence is free to use for teams with unlimited developers. Get started today at getambassador.io/devdiscuss.

 

[00:19:04] New Relic knows that the planet needs our help. That’s why they partnered with our team at DEV to host Hack the Planet. From now through February 28th, you can take advantage of their free tools to build a climate change monitoring app with the power of software observability. It’s a great chance to win cash prizes, community bragging rights, swag from New Relic and DEV, a tree planted in your name and other prizes too. Learn more about the Hack the Planet Contest on New Relic’s dedicated community hub, therelicans.com. The Relicans is your place to connect with other developers, meet the team behind New Relic’s software monitoring platform, and show off the app you’re building for the Hack the Planet Contest. That’s therelicans.com. Happy coding!

 

[AD ENDS]

 

[00:19:52] JL: Do you think the person leading the meeting should also be the person documenting the next steps or the results of any decisions that are made?

 

[00:20:03] AG: Well, I think it’s on the person leading the meeting to make sure that the next steps are clearly determined and that the responsibilities for follow-up are clearly determined. I think as a meeting leader, you have three responsibilities. You have the responsibility to prepare for the meeting. That’s preparing and circling the agenda. You have the responsibility to run the meeting, to be the facilitator, and then you have the responsibility to make sure that the things are followed up appropriately. Now some organizations may parse that out. They may say that there’s someone on staff who’s just a better facilitator and we’re going to let them run the meeting off of the agenda. But generally, with the organizations I see, the meeting leaders’ responsibilities are before, during, and after.

 

[00:20:42] BH: And what about the responsibilities of the participant? Now I imagine the stuff the leaders do make being a participant inherently much easier and probably help that idea of people who hate meetings in the first place just make it better for them.

 

[00:20:58] AG: Yup.

 

[00:20:58] BH: But if things are getting better, is there a set of principles that the participants can take into a meeting to be most effective?

 

[00:21:08] AG: Yeah, absolutely. In general, when we coach participants, we say, “If you’re not leading a meeting, you can still improve the quality of the meeting by how you conduct yourself.” So number one is, first of all, be a good listener. Listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to respond. A lot of people listen only to hear as much as they can to know how they’re going to fire back as opposed to hearing the entire content and then digesting it and then responding. That comes from Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Listen with the intent to understand, not to automatically respond. That’s number one. Also, when people talk about what makes good participation, it’s people who speak up when they have something to contribute. You’re not people who just have to chime in on every point, but the only time they check in is when they have something valuable to contribute. So that’s what we coach participants. If you’re going to speak up, make sure you’re building on adding to the discussion, not just being heard because in a lot of organizations, people feel like, “Well, if I don’t speak up, they’ll think that I wasn’t here or that I wasn’t paying attention. So I’m going to sort of, mark my space.”

 

[00:22:16] JL: Is there a way to give that type of feedback during the meeting? Or just how do you build awareness for that type of participant? Because they might not be aware that they’re doing something like that.

 

[00:22:27] AG: You can start a meeting with community agreements. You can say that for all of our meetings here at the ABC Corporation, here are some general rules we have. Listen with the intent to understand, not just to reply. When you speak, speak to contribute, not just to be heard, not just to leave your mark on the table. So I think you can have certain rules. In the same way, when you conduct a brainstorm, a very specific type of meeting, there are rules that enhance brainstorms that make them better, that you articulate before you have them. For example, if you’ve ever been in a brainstorm, one of the classic rules is suspend judgment. At a certain point when you’re bubbling up ideas, you tell people, “Let’s get the ideas out there. Let us not pass judgment on any idea because it has sort of a chilling effect on the room.” So in the same way, you may declare the rules or review the rules prior to a brainstorm. You can review the rules for a good meeting prior to each meeting. Just a very quick run-through. Say, “Here are our guidelines.”

 

[00:23:22] BH: How do you overcome the stain of people who have 20 years of experience in the industry and have come to associate meetings with a bad time or uselessness or a waste of their time? So maybe I tell you we’re making improvements, but there’s inherent skepticism. How do you work to overcome that?

 

[00:23:43] AG: Well, I think that if, as an organization, you committed to have better meetings and you kind of ring the bell and say, “Look, we realize our meetings have not been the best, we’re going to try and improve them,” we’re going to make some structural changes. And for example, the agenda template that I’m describing to you now, when we bring that into an organization, we create that template for them or co-create it with them and make slight modifications, but then it circulates around the entire organization and then everyone sees, “Oh, wait a second. We’re doing this differently now. We have an agenda that is much more thorough in terms of the meeting.” And that can send a signal even to the hardest boiled veterans that something has changed here. I’m not saying this is easy. Changing culture in any way is hard, but it’s a process. And I think that if you do this often enough, if you actually make sure that everyone who plans meetings introduces a better developed agenda and sticks with it, et cetera, eventually the hard-boiled people start to soften.

 

[00:24:44] JL: How have organizations adapted to remote meetings?

 

[00:24:48] AG: That’s a very good question. That’s also been a process. We did a study over this past summer where we surveyed organizations all over the United States, mostly nonprofits, foundations, government agencies, colleges, and universities, those are the communities we serve. And we had 4,405 people filled out our survey. So we had a very rich data set and we asked them questions about meeting and working online. “What’s working and what’s not?” And in October, we published a report called Unmuted: What Works, What Doesn’t, and How We Can All Do Better When Working Together Online. And so we asked a lot of questions about this. And so when it came to things like meetings, people had a lot to say. One of the things they were telling us was that when we have meetings online, when I give you my time, I expect it to be well used. I am going from meeting to meeting to meeting. I’m going from one Zoom conference to another. So if I’m going to turn over an hour to you, I expect you with the meeting leading convener to really have thought this out. So the word agenda, believe it or not, came up more often than any other single word when people told us what they expect from a good meeting. People are craving structure.

 

[00:26:04] BH: So bad meetings are pretty common in our industry and software development. And as organizations become more sophisticated, it’s easier said than done, not to have certain types of meetings.

 

[00:26:16] AG: Yeah.

 

[00:26:17] BH: But you particularly work with some of the most notorious areas for meeting culture, non-profits, governments, universities. All of those spaces screamed to me like meeting culture issues, perhaps bureaucracy, maybe as a component of that.

 

[00:26:38] AG: Yup.

 

[00:26:39] BH: Is there a space or an industry that has differently effective meetings or that you’ve learned from in order to bring advice to the worst offenders maybe? Just like what out there acts as inspiration?

 

[00:26:52] AG: Well, if there’s a particular sector that has having good meetings on a regular basis, I have not met them. In fact, every client that hires us to help with the meetings will claim to us that we’re the worst. We work with law firms, like, “We’re the worst.” We work with environmental nonprofits. They go, “Oh, we’re the worst.” We work with colleges and universities. I worked with one college where they referred to their professors as a thousand points of no. Everyone we talked to says they’re bad. And I just think that bad meetings are endemic across all sectors. So I can’t tell you. I found people are particularly good. One of the reasons I got out of the TV business is that the people running the writer’s room I found were so unqualified to run a group of people that, they had risen to the showrunner or executive producer level on the basis of their creative talent, their writing, et cetera, but managing a group of people in a room was not in their wheelhouse.

 

[00:27:53] BH: It doesn’t surprise me that they are poorly managed in that particular way with the creative, less organized types, rising to be the meaning leaders.

 

[00:28:03] AG: Yeah.

 

[00:28:04] BH: And other sectors might be kind of poorly managed in a totally different kind of way. Are the solutions for these different spaces similar because you are honing in on a structure that seems to work inherently? Or is there different medicine for showrunners versus university deans or whoever is going to organize a faculty meeting?

 

[00:28:30] AG: A writer’s room in a TV show, that’s a very unique situation. So I would have put that in a separate box entirely. But if we’re talking about a room full of college professors or a room full of environmental scientists or a room full of lawyers or any of the different groups we work with, I think there are some basic rules as to what people want. They want their time to be used constructively and efficiently. They want to know coming in what is expected of me, what are we here to achieve, what do I need to do to come in prepared, and when we leave, what do we need to do as follow up. I mean, there are some very basic things that I think everybody wants out of a meeting. So that’s why we’ve created this agenda structure that makes you fill out those things, makes you go through those steps one by one so that you give those people what they inherently want.

 

[00:29:24] JL: When you host one of these workshops, do you spend any time observing the organization on how they currently run meetings? Or everyone is sort of primed for how to improve their meetings?

 

[00:29:37] AG: When we do the workshops, what we’ll ask people to do is we’ll say, “If you’re coming to our workshop, send us agendas for your meetings now. Send us what you call an agenda.” And what we often find is that, in many cases, the agendas are lacking. The essential elements that we’re talking about. Now in some cases, they’ll have the essential elements that we’ve learned along the way. For example, at the bottom of our agenda is a section called “Next Steps”, which is to be completed the meeting where you outline what have you decided to do as follow up. When we had people from Harvard University take our class, they sent us one of their agenda templates and they have a section at the bottom of their agenda called WW, DW, BW. WW, DW, BW, which stands for, “Who will do what by when?” Now I like that. So we’ve now adopted that. Say you need to have a WW, DW, BW section, who will do what by when? Which is perfect. It specifies the person, the responsibility, the deadline. So by having people submit agendas, we see where their weak spots are and also sometimes we learn a few things and we add them to our template.

 

[00:30:48] JL: So I have a personal pet peeve of meetings that go over 50 minutes. Have you found that there’s a sweet spot for the duration of a meeting or perhaps it depends on the number of people in that meeting?

 

[00:30:59] AG: Well, yeah, I have to give you the all-purpose never satisfying answer, it depends, because it does depend on the number of people and the content, et cetera. But one of the things we learned from the Unmuted study over the summer was for online meetings, the sweet spot is definitely an hour. People have said that’s about as much as I want to spend time sitting at my desk, staring at a computer, looking at a bunch of faces in a Zoom gallery. So yes, sometimes you need to go longer. Sometimes you can get it done shorter, but if you ask for the general sweet spot, an hour or less is it and that’s the data.

 

[00:31:32] BH: I would discuss my anecdotal preferences as being I’m someone who might get antsy after 10 minutes in a certain type of meeting and in a different type of meeting I can go for four hours and be happy with it. I’m wondering if there’s a type of meeting that is allowed to go really long. I would hate to see something that’s that long on my calendar, but I’ve had a few times where given a free day certain types of really creative meetings can stretch on and everybody actually feels maybe tired by the end, but also happy and that things got done.

 

[00:32:11] AG: But I can tell you we do workshops for our clients. We do storytelling workshops. We do workshops where we teach presentation skills. We do our meeting workshop, et cetera, and we do these online. Many of our workshops run three hours. And so that would seem like a long time to ask someone to sit at a computer and participate in an online webinar. But because we build in breaks, because there’s so much interaction, there are breakout rooms. You’re always doing something. People enjoy them and it can work. So yeah. With the right types of techniques and activities, you can make more than an hour work, but if you want a general rule for the average run-of-the-mill meeting, an hour is a good sweet spot.

 

[MUSIC BREAK]

 

[AD]

 

[00:33:12] BH: Chances are, like other software developers, you learn better by doing than just watching. Unfortunately, most online learning platforms still have you passively sit through videos instead of actually getting your hands dirty. Educative.io is different. Their courses are interactive and hands-on with live coding environments inside your browser so you can practice as you go. They’re also text-based meaning you can skim back and forth like a book to the parts you’re interested in. Step up your learning in 2021. Visit educative.io/devdiscuss today to get a free preview and 10% off of an annual subscription.

 

[00:33:48] A common scene in technology companies everywhere, big conference table with the CTO on one end, developer teams on the other, the showdown. We have an idea, “Will it get funded?” More companies are feeling the pressure to go faster and stay ahead of the competition. Projects that have long timelines or no immediate impact are hard to justify. DataStax is sponsoring a contest with real projects, real money, and real CTOs. If you have a Kubernetes project that needs a database, the winner will get funded with a free year of DataStax Astra. Follow the link in the podcast description to submit your project. It’s time to impress the CTO and get your project funded.

 

[AD ENDS]

 

[00:34:32] JL: Now we’re going to move into a segment where we look at responses that you, the audience, have sent us to a question we made in relation to this episode this week.

 

[00:34:39] BH: This week, we asked the question, “What do you think the best ways to make meetings better and more efficient are?” Levi, do you want to hit us up with Heather’s response?

 

[00:34:51] HEATHER: Genders are very good. And sometimes you have to run the meeting in and keep it on topic. Sometimes the best thing you can say is, “Great idea. Let’s take that offline and then do so.” Also, note any decisions and act on them. That avoids another meeting about the meeting you just had.

 

[00:35:11] BH: So any thoughts on Heather’s feelings about great idea, let’s take it offline?

 

[00:35:17] BH: Absolutely. I think that sometimes meetings will get sidetracked where someone will have something that is really a conversation between two people. And why should the 10 people at the table all have to sit through that? So I think let’s take it offline. If not overused is a legitimate way of letting the meeting proceed and not get sidetracked with something that’s for a subset of the meeting.

 

[00:35:40] JL: Heather did use “A” word too. So I think we’re in good graces with them, agenda being “A” word.

 

[00:35:48] BH: Robin says, “Timeboxing. Think about the time schedule of your meeting based on the agenda and determined times for each item, how long each should take. At most, if possible, always plan some buffer at the end, in case it’s necessary to overrun the topic. Also every participant is happy if the meeting ends earlier than planned.”

 

[00:36:08] AG: Yeah. I absolutely agree with that. When you list the topics, not only do you list the topic, you list the “how it’s going to be handled”, the I, D, or A. You list the leader for that topic, if you’re parsing leadership in the meeting, “Okay, Jess is going to lead this portion. Ben is going to lead this portion.” And then also estimated length. This topic is 15 minutes, this topic is five minutes, et cetera, all in the purpose of shedding expectations for the participants of how much time are we going to spend on this.

 

[00:36:36] JL: I like what Doug wrote in. Doug wrote, “Use a timer that shows how much money you’re wasting. There’s lots of software alternatives. Google Meeting costs timer.”

 

[00:36:46] BH: That is a terrifying proposition, if you asked me.

 

[00:36:50] AG: It’s a little intimidating.

 

[00:36:51] BH: I think a few times in retrospective of how we make decisions, sometimes that’s come up in our organization, just like if we even have an entire type of thing we do as a company, which doesn’t show up on the balance sheet from a cost perspective directly, but requires an outsized number of meetings. We’ve sort of like loosely said like, “This is costing us a lot of money and it just doesn’t show up the same way it would if we had devoted this to a marketing budget.” Maybe instead of actually planning all this ourselves, we spent money and did something entirely different. Do meetings and budgets ever go hand-in-hand like that in reality?

 

[00:37:34] AG: Actually, I can tell you, one of our earliest clients was a national environmental organization. They had seven regional offices around the US, a big organization, and they hired us to help them with their meetings. And the first thing we did was we surveyed all of their staff and we said, “We want you to answer these questions. How many hours per week do you spend in meetings on average?” And we got a number. And then we said, “What percentage of those hours would you say is a complete waste of your time?” And we got that number. And then we said, “What is the average hourly wage of employees at this organization?” So working with the accounting department, we got the average hourly wage. So we could multiply the number of hours wasted times a certain dollar amount and what we came up with was that they were wasting $20,000 a week in a wasted time in meetings, over a million for a year is what they calculated. So we were able to start the workshop by saying, “Look, this isn’t just about being bored in the conference room or feeling that wasting your time, this is money going out the door.”

 

[00:38:39] JL: Wow. I love that. That’s an incredible exercise.

 

[00:38:43] AG: It was. It was an eye opener.

 

[00:38:45] BH: Yeah. And if cash is tight, like if you run a convenience store, you’re not going to take up your employee’s time away from the register to talk about what needs to happen all day long. You want them spending seven and a half hours in front of the register and maybe you talk for 20 minutes about like, “Oh, where the chips are today?” And such and such. You would never even consider taking half of their time in planning and optimization or whatever the meeting could be and half of their time in front of the register. You sort of want them actually doing their job.

 

[00:39:19] AG: Agreed.

 

[00:39:20] JL: Well, Andy, before we sign off, is there anything you’d like to share with our audience?

 

[00:39:24] AG: Well, I’ll just say this about meetings. A few years ago, I sat through a presentation by a guy from a nonprofit organization called Playworks. It’s an organization. I’m going to go way out here. I’m going to come back to this point. Playworks is an organization that helps schools make better use of recess time. When kids go out in the playground, recess and have fun. And so Playworks’ organization has studied play. And what they’ve said is that if you want to get to know somebody, watch them play, and this is somebody of any age. And I think this is true. Watch them play a game of any kind for 20 or 30 minutes and you’ll learn more about who they are as a person than if you sat through like a three-hour meeting with them. The reason I end with that is because go into any organization and sit through a meeting that they’re having for 30 minutes. I think you’ll learn more about that organization’s culture by observing how they meet for 30 minutes than if you spend several days walking the halls, talking their people, et cetera. Meetings are such a clear indicator of where organizations are. So if there are bad meetings, it’s a really important sign that the organization, that there’s a problem with the culture, it needs work. And so I think one of the best ways to go at that is through behavior modification, change the way people meet, change that and see if you cannot sort of, from a bottom up way, start to change the culture. And that’s what I think today in this discussion hopefully it’s been all about.

 

[00:40:52] JL: Amazing. Thank you so much, Andy.

 

[00:40:54] AG: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

 

[00:40:56] BH: Yeah. Thank you very much. This was great.

 

[00:40:58] JL: I think we’re going to go and make some changes ourselves. I want to thank everyone who sent in responses. For all of you listening, please be on the lookout for our next question. We’d especially love it if you would dial into our Google Voice. The number is +1 (929) 500-1513 or you can email us a voice memo so we can hear your responses in your own beautiful voices. This show is produced and mixed by Levi Sharpe. Editorial oversight by Peter Frank and Saron Yitbarek. Our theme song is by Slow Biz. If you have any questions or comments, please email pod@dev.to and make sure to join our DevDiscuss Twitter chats on Tuesdays at 9:00 PM Eastern, or if you want to start your own discussion, write a post on Dev using the #discuss. Please rate and subscribe to this show on Apple Podcasts.