A look into the challenge of meetings

TL;DR – Meeting can be evil 😈 unless you structure them with clear goals and desired outcomes.

Scheduling the right meetings at the right time is something I do not have my grip on yet. Many variables go into this. Let’s start with the most basic one, who should attend?

We are a team of four people managing IT for a high tech company of a few hundreds of people. Our three offices are spread across three locations in the world in different countries and different time zones.

Our vision is to build an IT company inside our company that will provide the best service possible. This is sometimes mistaken for holding people’s hands whenever they need any technical support. We believe that we need to strive to make the working environment as simple, intuitive and prone to as less failures as possible.

Let’s name it the Helpdeskless IT. The less we deal with the small items like printers not working due to our misconfiguration the more time we will have to make sure that we set up the printing system correctly, on the right network subnets or in the proximity of the right device.

So back to the original question of who actually should be in the meeting. Should all four team members be in the meetings when we do our weekly or bi-weekly planning? Given the two hour windows (more on that later) that we have for those meetings, having everyone attend is time consuming and not enough considering the multiple projects everyone is working on.

What seems to work for us today (this is changing every few weeks due to the nature of our projects) is for me to have a one on one meeting at the beginning of the week for each person on the team. This will be Sunday for non-US and on Monday for US teams. 
Sunday works best for me to plan the upcoming week. That means that on the previous weeks’ end we must have the wrap-up meeting and update and close all open loops. That will be on Thursday for all teams with a possible follow up on Friday for the US teams to avoid the need of pushing something to next week.

During the week we will have other meetings (we are using zoom and slack for communication) which are more focused on execution and decision making. Usually, only the project lead will join but sometimes an extra pair of eyes can help.

Also in our team, each project has a project leads and project support person. Since we are most of the time working without a buddy to bounce ideas off in the room next to us, we try to do this by having two people synced on what is going on for each major project. This is also useful to back up each other when the project lead is away for any reason. Most of the time, the support person will not actively work on the project, but keeps it in the back of his mind and can put out fires.
The project buddies will have a meeting just the two of them to sync up on the changes and bounce ideas and challenge each other’s views and share successes. That also has some challenges but we are working on this.

In the beginning, we had one long weekly meeting and sprint planning. on the last day of the week for the no-US team, where each one of us would bring up what they did this week, what we plan to accomplish the following week or weeks and just hang out and follow up on that week’s event. At first we this worked great when there were only two on the team but once we grew to four people, that meeting became three hours long and by the middle of it we were not productive at all. Also for some of us, it was the end of the day and others it was early AM so the energy levels were quite different.
At some point, we tried to get the meeting under an hour by using a countdown clock and that was fun for a while but this ended up causing us to miss out on important details, not giving the necessary attention to details and just felt forced. We also lost the FUN in those condensed meeting since there was less time for joking and trashing each other in a fun way.

So we starting adopting the structure described in the beginning. The big meeting was also changed to a bi-weekly meeting where we have a conversation on items that are not based on actual work. There would be a “general theme” to the meeting to give it direction, something like “What do we want to measure in the IT department and how we are going to achieve it”.
This would also be a great time to bring up the things that are bothering each one of us and how we can improve on as a team. 
We just started doing that now and the idea of the “So how are things” meeting is working out great.

There are also bi-directional feedback meetings that we have, we will go into that in a different time. The idea is that sometimes providing feedback is needed immediately and sometimes it’s better to wait a bit and evaluate the situation.

So that’s it for now. This is a work in progress and probably changed by the time you are reading this. My main take away from this is to be open to feedback from the team and be open to changing things up until it fits the interests of all involved as much as possible.

P.S – As I was writing this a few topics came in mind that I want to deep dive later and get your feedback on:

  • Direct communication via calls and messaging vs project/ticketing software updates.
  • Over-communication as a core value
  • YTB across the globe
  • Working on ongoing vs progressing on projects.
  • Weekly, bi-monthly, half-yearly and yearly reviews for me and the team
  • Incentivising the team by doing what you are interested in, setting goals, tracking progress, the little prizes and goodies in life.

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