by Leon Rosenshein

Doc Culture

Doc Culture I've touched on this a couple of times before, but never focused on it. ATG is a large organization. There are lots of people to talk to and lots of channels to talk through. We also have lots of meetings. So many that teams are starting to institute "No Meeting xxxday" so people can focus for extended blocks of time. Uninterrupted time for focus is great. We should have more of it. Clustering meetings definitely helps, but it doesn't actually reduce the meeting load. What if we could do something to make meetings more effective and reduce the total meeting load? That would be a real advantage. A place to start is to think about why you're having the meeting and decide if it's necessary. The second is to to decide who needs to be there, which depends greatly on the answer to the first question.

There are lots of reasons to have meetings. For the sake of this discussion let's talk about the 4 big ones. Information Sharing, Brainstorming, Collaborating, and Decision Making. For information sharing meetings, do you really need it, or can you just send out an email/doc with the information? Sometimes realtime feedback or the topic is important enough that it makes sense, but think about it. Brainstorming/jamming requires people to be together (at least virtually) and have real-time interaction with each other to build on ideas, but who needs to be there? It's important to get diverse perspectives, but i a person is unengaged then they're not helping anyone by being there. Let people vote with their feet. Similarly, with deep collaboration, a small handful of people, focusing on a topic can be very effective. Bystanders, kibbitzers, and lookie-lou's just slow things down, so think about who's there.

Decision making. There's something we can really work on. How many meetings have you been to where the person who called the meeting asked "Has everyone read the doc?" and most folks looked down at the table? Or you get halfway through the meeting and realize that the person who should be making the decision isn't there? Or the walls are lined with folks need to know the answer, but don't really have any input? Think of the person-hours we could save if we made that part better.

Another way to make decision making meetings more efficient is the Amazon approach. Make sure you have the right folks in the room, both decision makers and people who can provide both overview and detailed information. Start the meeting by presenting a written narrative discussion of the problem and proposed solution and have everyone take 15-30 minutes and read it. Then, with an agenda and that context, discuss the points, make a decision and leave. Of course if it were that easy everyone would be doing it. It takes work, It's much harder to write a doc, in full sentences, that convinces people then to put together a set of bullet points and steamroll to a pre-ordained decision, but doing it the hard way gets a better decision, wastes less people's time, and when you're done you have a record not only of the decision, but why it was made. And, it puts the burden of communication and making sure the right message is received on the person sending the message, which, according to communication theory, is the right place.