To meet or not to meet

TL;DR - Show up to a meeting with presence and respect, or find a way to not go at all.

A meeting can feel like a waste of time when you are trying to build something. It feels like a distraction, and requires a cost of context switching that cannot be recovered easily. This is why I will sometimes resent a meeting before attending. The problem is that this attitude can be a self-fulfilling prophecy that makes the meeting go poorly and the meeting organizers feel disrespected.

One of the core principles of software craftsmanship is productive partnerships, and those require close collaboration with team members and clients. The quality of the software I build will be representative of the quality of relationship I have with partners and clients. I go to meetings with collaborators to exchange information and make decisions. I do that through:

  1. Defining the collaborators (invites).

  2. Defining the data that needs to be exchanged or decisions that need to be made (agenda).

How can we make a meeting most productive?

Meeting Length

The length of a meeting is determined by its goal. Standup meetings are a way to check in with teammates and identify possible opportunities for collaboration? They can be very short since they are just meant to create connections. Iteration planning meetings are much longer since they use the most difficult and mentally exhausting skills of estimation and prioritization. At the end of an IPM, my brain is usually fried.

Attendance

Everyone in the meeting should have the option to attend for the portions where it is valuable for them. There is nothing more awkward then participants who are not getting value out of a meeting that is going well for everyone else. One technique I use is for different stakeholders to verbalize their goals or takeaways in the beginning. Knowing why someone is there and when they can leave is important.

Participation

You need clients and team members to trust and respect you so that everyone will collaborate to build the best product possible. The best way to earn that trust and respect is by showing everyone—not telling them—that you deserve it. Here are some tips:

Look at the person who’s talking

This might sound obvious, but it’s one of the most effective ways to show someone you’re actually listening to them. Maintain eye contact as much as you can. This engages the speaker, and will encourage her or him to stay on track.

It also helps you stay focused. If you’re making eye contact, you’re more likely to retain the information. You’ll be able to think critically about other people’s input, and ask more insightful questions that will pay off when the meeting is over and you’re tasked with doing the work. Even though you might think you can multitask when someone else is talking, you won’t retain as many details if you leave yourself open to distractions.

Take notes

Another way to make sure you leave a meeting prepared for success is to take notes throughout. Notes force you to engage with the material more actively. They will help you think more critically about what you’re supposed to be learning in a meeting, and will help you ask better, more insightful questions.

Oftentimes when you leave a meeting, you’ll have a ton of unorganized ideas buzzing around in your head. Good notes will allow you to revisit the important takeaways and action items, not just the ones that came up toward the end.

Maintain good posture

Do not slouch. If you lean back in your chair, cross your legs, and fold your arms, you might feel more comfortable—but you will also give the presenter the impression that the meeting is relaxed and doesn’t require serious thought.

It’s difficult to maintain a rigid posture for an extended period of time, though. If and when your posture becomes a problem, lean forward instead of back. This is an anticipatory gesture that will help move the meeting forward. It will communicate to everyone that you are engaging with the material and ready to work.

One trick that I’ve found useful for this is to put my elbows on the table. This communicates the exact opposite message of leaning back.

NEVER check your phone

Your telephone is a clear indication that you don’t have time for the meeting. Your teammates will think they don’t have to take the meeting seriously, and the presenter will think you are unprepared and unmotivated to move the project forward. What’s more, you will be more likely to be distracted and miss important information.

If you really need to check the time, wear a watch.

Feedback

Give feedback to the facilitator. Was the pace too slow? Was there enough preparation? Don’t wait for them to read your facial expressions of boredom and disappointment. Give constructive feedback to help them improve the meeting to achieve its goals.

Paul Pagel, Chief Executive Officer

Paul Pagel has been a driving force in the software craftsmanship movement since its inception.

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