Applying Switch framework to: Meetings are not real work - part II

Posted by Marcus Hammarberg on September 20, 2012
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This is the second post in my series where I try to apply the Switch framework to the problem of people thinking that meetings aren't not proper work. Read the first post here.

When we left of we had done some reasoning with the Rider of the Elephant to try to appeal to the logical side of things; we tried to find people holding great meetings and copy them, make checklists for good meetings and best practices that we could follow and even pointed to a bright and wonderful future where every meeting was great.

This post talks to the Elephant - the subconsious that is run by primal forces, it's lazy and rather just do what is fun. We need a totally different approach here. Keep in mind the size of the Elephant - it will go the other way if it wants to.

This is the second post in my series where I try to apply the Switch framework to the problem of people thinking that meetings aren't not proper work. Read the first post here.

When we left of we had done some reasoning with the Rider of the Elephant to try to appeal to the logical side of things; we tried to find people holding great meetings and copy them, make checklists for good meetings and best practices that we could follow and even pointed to a bright and wonderful future where every meeting was great.

This post talks to the Elephant - the subconsious that is run by primal forces, it's lazy and rather just do what is fun. We need a totally different approach here. Keep in mind the size of the Elephant - it will go the other way if it wants to.

Find the feeling

The first thing we need to do is get the Elephant to feel for the cause. A sense of urgency as it's often called in the Lean literature. 

In the Switch book there's a wonderful story about this. A company had a lot of different factories. They bought a lot of different clothing and equipment from different vendors. This costed a lot since every factory bought their own stuff. No big purchase discounts could be had. 
A project was created ... but no one care. Their elephants was not involved. 
So the project manager sent out an intern to collect on glove of each type that the company had in any factory. It was about 250 different types. He poured these on top of a table and brought the managers into the room one by one:
"You know what this is?"
"No... A truckload of gloves?"
"Yes - this is all the different types of gloves we're using in the company"
"WHAT?! We need to fix this. NOW!"

So this was very clever. He did a visual representation of how much items there really was. Something that was really hard to grasp in figures. He then chocked them a bit. This created a sense of urgency. Note the "WE need to fix this NOW". They felt that this needed to be address. But they all saw it as their problem. WE - not YOU. 

To motivate us to do better meetings we need to show how much time is lost in bad meetings. One way could be to have a Meeting Hourly Rate Calculator running in the background.

With this clock ticking away we will not drag out discussions longer than needed. But this could also create stress so use it with care.

Another thing we could try is to list all the meetings we're having and rate them on how well time spent every meeting really is. It can be done as a simple 15 minute exercise. (Thanks Henrik Kniberg for this tip)

Draw a table like this:

And write all the recurring meetings your having in the first column. Then have everybody rate the value of the meeting on a scale from 1-5 (for example). Then list the length of the meeting. For good measures you could track if people feel that the meetings are mandatory. 

With this data we can see which meeting that are the most valuable. And also which ones that take up a lot of our time. Finally - just think if people are attending meetings just because they think they have to, when they in reality don't? That would be waste indeed. 

This little exercise triggers a lot of interesting discussions, I think. You want everybody to feel; WE need to fix this NOW. And we can. Yes we can :).

A final thing I've tried is to calculate how much time the meeting is taking relative the sprint, iteration or week. For example; we're doing a sprint planning (1 day) for an 3 week sprint. That is; we preparing the work for the next 3 weeks and taking 8 h / 120 h = 7% of our time for this. 
Does that feel good? How about 4 hours instead? A little lesser planning, but just 4 % of our allocated time. 

Shrink the change

Even though we know where we're going and what are missing now the journey can be daunting. It's simply to far a leap to make, even in our minds. So we need to help the lazy Elephant, by showing that the journey has already started and we can do simple stuff already today to improve right now. It dosen't take much.

For starters; let's write do a simple template that we all use for invites;

"Hello,
I really need your help in this meeting. We're going to talk about X and I want you to contribute with ideas and opinions on it.

We're starting at XX:XX and ending at YY:YY. Not a minute later.

When this meeting is over I hope that we have achieved:

  • Goal 1
  • Goal 2
  • Goal 3

I hope that you can take time out of your schedule and help us with this. "

Yeah - probably needs some working but just stating the subject and goal of the meeting, when it starts and ends (!) I think can improve a lot of on the motivation for me being in the meeting in the first place. I cannot count the number of times I have gone to meetings without even knowing what they are about.

Another simple thing to start doing is to agree on a time limit. Start using timeboxes for meetings. And adjust the content of the meeting to fit the time box.
The elephant loves to hear stuff like; "We'll make a big improvement just by doing timeboxed meetings. That's easy stuff - just set a clock".

Try to find simple changes that everyone can do and just do them. If you are met with resistance to some suggested changes you can always propose it as an experiment. "For the next week - let's do an experiment with time boxed meetings. And then evaluate." This is elephant-candy.

Grow you people

Under this heading we're aiming to create a culture. A force that help us uphold the values even when new people are added or when we forget ourselves. You want to create a feeling of beloning to something greater than yourself.

Start using slogans and sound-bits like "We're great in doing meetings here!" or "Every meeting is better than the last one".

Better yet if the term "meeting" is infected with a lof of bad feelings. And it probably is. Stop using that word then. Always talk about "workshops" or "get togethers" or "check-ins" (for shorter meetings)

What you most definitly want is to stop bad mouthing meeting (or what ever you call them). Just don't tolerate the people saying stuff like "Meetings are not work", "Why are you punishing us with another meeting" or "I just don't like meetings". Ask them what they are doing about it. Remind people that a lot of meetings are requests, not mandatory. You have to take responsibility for what you do with your time.

Conclusion

We have not tried to reason with the Elephant, trying to talk with the lazy subconscious of the people we're trying to change. That just leaves the last part - shaping the path on which the Rider and the Elephant are walking down. That's the subject of the next post. See you there. 


Published by Marcus Hammarberg on Last updated