Welcome to the new week of 2023! I hope you had some happy holidays if you took time off. Otherwise, I hope you had some rest from your normal day-to-day activities.
For my part, I took two weeks off, and my family came to visit during the end-of-year celebrations. But I’m digressing now to our topic at hand.
With a recent post about Shopify canceling all meetings of more than two people, the discourse came around the topic of meetings, and how they’re seeing as the problem or time sucker for doing our work.
With the pandemic, we had to all go home and figure out how to cope with all this communication we used to have in person, in hallways, walking to someone’s desk, etc.
People turned to informal meetings, those 5 min quick calls. Later it became more apparent that we needed formal recurring meetings to keep up to date with all that was happening around the organization.
If you’re either a manager of people, or a “know-how” manager, as High Output Management calls them, or “staff engineer,” as I’m called more recently, besides 1:1s with direct reports, you’ll need 1:1 meetings to keep relationships and manage up, down, left, right, and all around!
Since the start of the pandemic, the rise of 1:1 meetings I’ve had has become 20-30% of my week.
Those are “formal” recurring time slots on each person’s calendar; depending on the person, you might need to engage an assistant to schedule. At the same time, during a given day, I’m joining huddles or “quick calls” throughout the day.
Five minutes here, 10 minutes there. It reached a point last year where I had to wait for people to go offline to start doing my tasks, and I had a few weeks like this.
Unless you work at a place with people living in multiple time zones, and by the time some go offline, others go online, and the cycle never ends!
The perception around most group meetings is that they could be more valuable and productive. We’ve all gone through meetings where we’ve asked ourselves, what are we doing here? Or why am I here? Or this meeting could have been an email.
Preparing to have productive meetings is hard work, facilitating meetings, taking notes, and sharing them widely. This pre-work only happens sometimes. While the meeting feels productive, the learnings are not shared openly. Not widely shared understanding means that someone in the future will ask the reason for X or Y decision, and only if the person was present will they be able to tell the reason from anecdotal knowledge.
The surge of 1:1s is a response to the current context, world, and work environment. But having people do so many 1:1s seems counterproductive when trying to have people have their maker’s time.
There should be little need for this overhead to reach alignment or understand missing pieces so you can work effectively.
At this point, managers or their right hand should try to alleviate this by scheduling group meetings to solve common topics needing a higher level of shared context, knowledge, etc.
Also, if you feel you’re reaching “meeting bankruptcy,” you should work with your manager to understand why you need so many meetings and help you find a sweet spot of time invested either in 1:1s or group meetings, etc.
Do you have other thoughts about the meeting overload we’re facing, and if you think Shopify’s approach was correct?