#109 - 16 Apr 2022
Meeting sizes and purposes; In praise of project managers; When team members aren't meeting expectations; Timeboxing; Good town halls
Rubik shares a guideline — a meeting with more than eight people isn’t effective as a decision-making meeting, and so:
When you have more than eight participants, you either need to change the format of the meeting, or you need to restructure the participants (and you usually want to do some deeper work on communication and organizational structure).
There are some good examples of redesigning meetings, either shifting their focus or attendee list. But I think this is an example of the broader point that clarity of what the meeting is for can and should guide everything else about how the meeting is designed. Otherwise it’s very difficult to have the meetings be effective and efficient uses of peoples’ time.
Lucid is a company that sells meeting software and consulting, and they have a pretty nice taxonomy of sixteen meeting types in three broad categories. With the meeting type and purpose in mind, a lot of choices about the meeting (like does it have to be a synchronous meeting) start falling into place. Seeing that you have a lot of people in meeting is one symptom that such clarity is lacking, but it’s not the only one.
Entropy Crushers - Michael Lopp
Lopp talks about the need for project (or, increasingly, “delivery”) managers. I think this is a vital point:
If you’re a lead on a growing team, you have your unique version of this process [project work], and to me, a huge chunk of this work is for the project manager. You already have a project manager and it’s you.
As a team’s efforts grow, the keep-the-ship-moving-forward work grows superlinearly - maybe a bit, maybe a lot, depending on the kind of work and how the team’s organized. At some point there’s roughly a full time employee’s worth of work there - and, if they focus on it and know their craft well, they’ll do it better than you and someone else doing it of the sides of your desks will get it done.
Sometimes, after giving lots of feedback, you still need to have The Talk with a team member about them underperforming and it becoming a serious problem. If you find yourself and your team member in that unpleasant situation, this is a pretty good outline of how to have the conversation with the right balance of firmness and compassion.
Managing Your Own Career
Get More Feedback This Week - Laura Tacho
Specific guidance along the lines of what we discussed last week about getting more feedback:
Be specific - ask for super-specific feedback/advice/guidance
Be timely - ask for it immediately after what you want input on, or even before
Be gracious - reward the behaviour you want to see more of! Thanking them, taking the input seriously, and even letting them know later how you incorporated the input makes it more likely you’ll get good feedback in the future.
I’m in a new workplace, with a lot going on, and it is super easy to get distracted.
Worse still, I can effortlessly justify to myself being distracted and flitting between different things. “I’m still learning the landscape; it’s important for someone in my role to have a broad view of what’s going on everywhere. Who knows what might come up in that conversation tomorrow?” That’s not even really wrong! But it’s far too easy to let that very comfortable and convenient attitude keep my mind stuck on “scan”, noticing every slack ping and reading every email as it comes in (we have a LOT of emails) and watching every talk being given. All those little dopamine hits are way more entertaining than doing the hard work of buckling down to get something accomplished.
Eyal advocates for an approach that has come up frequently before - timeboxing. Actually blocking off time on your calendar to accomplish something specific. This has the huge advantages of (a) actually setting aside time, and (b) implicitly setting the scope of what you’ll do.
Eyal adds two things, First, it’s easy to start small. Just start with one thing that’s been on your to-do list.
Second, if you doubt the need for this, track what you do through the day in two buckets - reactive work and reflective, pre-planned work. Are you spending as much time in reflective planned work as you thought you were? Maybe you need to start time boxing.
How to Run an Organized Town Hall Meeting - Alexandria Hewko, Fellow
Town Halls are a pretty common format, and… they’re often not great. They’re ad-hoc, mostly prepared talks, and so generally not super well-received (and, thus, not generally well-attended). Why bother if you can read the slides and the Q&A afterwards, right? We’re all busy.
Hewko gives some advice for running a town hall which is actually a community event rather than a broadcast from HQ:
Have a recurring meeting cadence
Have focussed objectives - what is the purpose of the series? And of this episode?
Collaboratively create an agenda
Record the meetings
Have a facilitator keep the schedule and encourage participation
Share new updates - don’t rehash the same stuff. People can watch the recordings for previous episodes.
Have lots of time for questions
Gather feedback regularly
Ever wanted to use 8 glow in the dark stickers as 1 byte of RAM? Here’s how, treating the refresh cycle of stickers like a very-slow DRAM.
One of the cool things about teletypes is that they always provided persistent logs of sessions. Here’s a read through of some 1979-1980 transcripts of users logging into The Source, a BBS like service with news and email and stock information, a question forum, and other features.
And that’s it for another week. Let me know what you thought, or if you have anything you’d like to share about the newsletter or management. Just email me or reply to this newsletter if you get it in your inbox.
Have a great weekend, and good luck in the coming week with your team,