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How and Why Meetings Should Be Conducted More Productively

Meetings
Productivity
Prioritization
Performance

9 December, 2021

Allison McGillivray
Allison McGillivray

Vice President, Engineering at FMX

Allison McGillivray, Vice President, Engineering at FMX, shares how a growing team requires more meetings, which could affect productivity.

The Meeting Madness

Although we are still a pretty small team, our team has been growing significantly. Naturally, this has led to an increase in meeting load across the group. It’s no surprise that engineers hate being in meetings because they want to spend that time heads-down focused on building things. Sometimes when they are called into meetings, they might lose focus on their work and are unable to pick up where they left off. It takes some time to reconnect and be as productive as they initially were before the meeting. We did not want that productivity loss, nor did we want them to lose track of their work.

How to Make Meetings Great Again

First things first, we mandated everyone to list focus time on their calendars, and they needed to leave themselves significant blocks. When team members go to schedule meetings, they try very hard to leave those blocks free for the developers. We recommended keeping the mornings free for meetings and afternoon as their focus time. But that’s just what worked for us.

Moving forward, we also changed the narratives of the meetings. A lot of engineers find meetings to be unproductive, but that most certainly is not the case. Meetings are there for a reason 一 perhaps we are attempting to solve a problem, learn about a new concept, or help our teammates. What you want to avoid are unproductive meetings. It’s easy to spot an unproductive meeting, but in theory, every session has a purpose. Engineers need to identify the goal of every discussion to understand that they are being productive with their presence.

For instance, the purpose for them could be helping someone overcome a blocker. While technically not solving a problem in their own work, developers are being good teammates by attending the meeting and helping others solve their problems. Some meetings are all about team building, and that’s also okay because it calls for forging high trust with their teammates 一, which is essential in any environment. In the end, these relationships help developers be more productive and solve their own blockers in time.

We start every meeting with a written plan. If it’s a group meeting where people discuss the challenges as a team, every person must fill out the agenda. For me, that included the standups as well. Our standups used to be more like status updates and provided limited productive value. Now with an agenda, everyone is able to get their status updates out of the way and leave time for productive conversation on removing blockers, asking important questions, etc.

Moderating and sticking to a schedule is also very important. A lot of the time, we might get stuck on a topic and simply explore it. Everyone is able to express their thoughts and opinions, but they aren’t able to take away any action items at the end of the meeting. However, that’s not beneficial; there are no clear takeaways, and no one knows their roles. Therefore, it’s important to push for decisions, consensus, and next steps.

Lessons learned

  • Meetings are not bad; unproductive meetings are bad. Understanding the difference between those two is really important because meetings are supposed to serve a purpose.
  • Collaboration is healthy, and it’s essential to be intentional about it. This helps engineers from a psychological standpoint and helps them be more productive long-term.

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