Meetings as a Service

A Strange Work Experiment

On , the Hesburgh Library encouraged everyone to postpone all meetings for the day; This followed the University of Notre Dame’s mini-break for students. The library administration marked that day as a chance to get work done.

The library administration has made statements and reminders that we are each in control of our calendars. However, we have a culture that involves lots of meetings; Often those meetings have more than a handful of attendees. To schedule a meeting with many participants often requires scheduling over someone’s identified reserved work time.

I’m fortunate, I don’t have a lot of meetings; I might have one a day. However, for some, their calendars are fully block out with meetings and work time.

I’m with-holding judgment on whether there should be this many meetings. Instead I’m trying to run a little experiment within the current system.

Observations

  • People rarely schedule over meetings with many participants.
  • I can get a lot done in 90 minutes if I state up front what I want to get done.
  • People take liberty to schedule over one on one time or individual work time.

In fact, in sending out this meeting invite, I had to trample on someone’s one on one time. The person who’s schedule I trampled mentioned as much. I apologized and was transparent in my thoughts:

I was looking for time for four people. One person’s calendar only showed busy or free. Your calendar showed details. I assessed that the one on one with another person was the most “flexible”. I made a decision so that we could have this meeting sooner instead of 6 weeks out.

And to be clear, the impact for the other person was minimal. They took the time to explain the reality. An in clarifying my intention, we closed the circuit between intention and impact. All told a positive exchange.

In this candid and trust filled conversation, we identified that perhaps we should not share the context of our calendars, so that others can’t make these value judgemen ts.

The Experiment: Iteration 1

The goal of this first experiment is to see about structuring a meeting that makes space for individual work, while also building in an accountability and transparency mechanism.

I will be facilitating this meeting.

The Agenda

10 minutes
We gather and share the tasks we are intending to work on. Zoom audio on, video optional.
90 minutes
Each individual works on their own tasks. Zoom audio off, Video off.
10 minutes
We each report back on what we got done. We will try to avoid sharing about the process, but instead on what you got done (see below). Zoom audio back on.
10 minutes
Get up, take a break, gear up for your next activity. This is your time to decompress. (Though we might spill into this time).

For a small group (let’s say 6-ish) I think we’ll use a single Zoom room. For a larger group, I think we’ll need to use a Breakout room structure.

At present, I’m not thinking about taking notes regarding what each of us are doing. That is not the goal of this experiment.

If you come to the meeting and want to pair up with someone to work through something, that’s great. You may need to drop out of Zoom and meet in your own channel. I’d love for you to stop in for the first part of the meeting and pop back in for the last part.

Follow-up Action Item

After the meeting, I plan to send out a communication to all participants asking:

  • What worked?
  • What would you change?
  • Where did you get stuck?

The exact form of this communication is to be determined. If 6 people make it, I envision an email thread. If 20 people make it, I think we’ll need a different feedback mechanism.

Conclusion

I don’t know what will come of this experiment. Already, in floating the idea, we’ve had some productive insights.

One colleague has suggested adopting the pomodoro technique and coming up with a playlist. I’ve also heard that in some of these meetings people leave their video on; the idea being that this helps with accountability.

All of those are possible directions, but for this experiment I chose a minimum viable structure. I’m eager to hear the feedback.

Another critical component in this; I’m not a manager, I’ve framed this meeting as a time for individual contributors to work on things.

If the experiments successful, I’m prepared to propose it for a group of managers. I’ll facilitate.