Open Thinkering


Tag: meetings

I’m pretty sure ‘status update’ meetings aren’t work

Status update meetings are ones where no decisions are made and no forward planning takes place. As such, they can be considered superfluous to well-run organisations and effective collaborations. There are better ways to manage people and projects.

I find that status update meetings are a bad habit that organisations get into for one of several reasons. It could be that they don’t know better. With these kinds of organisations, working with WAO and organisations like us can be a revelation. In fact, that’s been the case many times, especially with smaller charities.

Another reason for the status update meeting can be a lack of standardised toolset. In these kinds of organisations, everyone uses their own ‘to-do’ list, from pen and paper through to some complicated digital workflow. The status update meeting therefore acts as an inefficient kind of ‘API’ (or translation) between these siloed systems.

A third reason that status update meetings exist is that people are employed to work fixed hours. This is the most pernicious. It might not even be a conscious thought, but if you’ve got hours to fill, there’s nothing as low-bar as a status update meeting to while away the time.

Image CC BY ND Bryan Mathers for WAO

The easiest way to get out of the habit of status updates is to know what the alternative is, to decide on a standardised toolset, and to turn those meetings into co-working sessions.

At WAO we used the simplest tools possible to get the job done. Over-complicated toolsets and workflows are the enemy of collaboration and, in fact, can be thought of as a form of procrastination.

Essentially, all you need is a place to put three lists: To Do, Doing, and Done. If you’re physically co-located this could even be on a wall. WAO uses Trello as we find it everyone just ‘gets’ it. You can add extra lists as necessary (we use ‘Epics’, ‘Feedback’, and ‘Zombie Garden’).

What this means is that status update-related conversations happen on the Trello board. The meetings that used to happen to keep everyone up-to-date can now either be eliminated or turned into co-working meetings.

At WAO, we have at least one co-working meeting per client every week. In these meetings we check in, bringing our full selves to work, prioritise what needs doing, and then either work on those things together, or divide and conquer. As we’re fully-remote, the latter looks like muting audio and video for a set period of time (usually 15, 30, or 45 minutes) and working on a task. We can can unmute and ask questions if necessary.

The above can sound like it might drain the fun out of work. I can assure you it’s the opposite. Status update meetings drain energy out of people and projects. Co-working and representing progress visually is invigorating.

Try it! You might be surprised.

Blue Skies Thinking vs. Grey Skies Thinking

I attended a meeting today. It began as it meant to go on: it was assumed and then stated explicitly that we all wanted to be home ASAP and that there was some stuff that needed to be done so we’d better get on and do it to meet our obligations and get it out of the way. It’s what I would term a ‘Grey Skies Meeting’.

We’ve all been to Grey Skies Meetings. They’re the ones where:

  • Something needs to be done but no-one wants to do it.
  • Problems are raised.
  • There is a strict hierarchy and everyone ‘knows their place’.
  • Saying anything that entails lengthy discussion is frowned upon and there is immense peer pressure not to do so.
  • Internal politics are at the forefront, the actual purpose of the organization is put on the backburner.
  • Quick solutions that tick boxes are welcomed.

I came away from the meeting somewhat downhearted. There were a few in that meeting who genuinely wanted things to move forwards in the same way that I did. But, for some of the reasons given above, they only expressed these ideas and thoughts before and after the meeting had taken place.

I want to work in a Blue Skies environment that has meetings whereby:

  • Opportunities are identified.
  • The reason for the organization’s existence guides the process and progress of the meeting.
  • People feel confident at putting forward ideas and concepts that aren’t necessarily full-formed, but point in the right direction.
  • A meritocracy operates: people’s contributions are judged by their usefulness rather than the position that the contributor holds or the length of time they’ve spent within the organization.
  • Smaller plans feed into a bigger plan.
  • The talents of the whole of the individual are used rather than their utility being defined by their position within the organization.

This isn’t a blog post about my school. It isn’t really about education per se. It’s about how our society operates and defines people. I want to be where there’s a blue sky. In fact, just saying that has made me remember ELO’s feelgood anthem Mr Blue Sky, which has cheered me up no end… :-p

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