Confessions of an IT Director

Another meeting that could have been an email…

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.” 

Dave Barry

Meetings – a necessary tool or something that clogs up the productivity of the system? 

Honestly? I can’t tell you how many super productive meetings I’ve been a part of. I know I have been, and I know there has been some exciting stuff decided upon and definitely some necessary items that were resolved in meetings, I just can’t sit here and wax poetic on them. 

Why? Because for me in my career in IT, meetings have done nothing but suck the life and productivity out of a day. Early in my career (when I was a System Admin) I worked for an enterprise where the Director of IT held weekly staff meetings on Monday… from 8-11am. 3 painstakingly long hours where everyone around the room (the staff wasn’t that big, maybe 7 people) would detail out every aspect of every issue they were working on, from difficulties with end-users to waiting for parts, to whatever else they wanted to talk about. 

I worked in an enterprise where part of the staff was remote (across the country) so meetings were set to get on the same page. I didn’t mind those so much, as the IT manager at the time (then when I took over), kept them short and sweet. It built a camaraderie between the teams and was useful in towing the company line. 

I worked at a non-profit where everything was a meeting. Meetings to determine when the next meeting was. Meeting to create sub-committees to make more meetings. Meetings where the meeting attendees are all the same, but called different things. Meetings. Meetings. Meetings.

Today is no exception. I’m in the middle of a project and I’ve run into some issues. When asked for an update, I say something to the effect of, “We’ve run into some issues, we’re remediating and should be back on track shortly. Still on track for hitting my milestones”… And the response is, “let’s have a meeting this afternoon to discuss this”

Um. Wut?

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t like the people asking have technical experience they can lend to the project to get it up and running. There’s no secret that I’m not thinking of that they might know. It’s a meeting for meeting’s sake. It’s code for, “I want more information so I can grill you on things that I think you may not have been doing”

Maybe it’s borne out of genuine care and want to help. Maybe they want to be productive. Maybe they feel they want to see where they can help. Or maybe…

Maybe…

Just maybe…

We’re conditioned as leaders to use meetings as a tool to control our subordinates. Maybe it’s just a forum to get others to listen to what we have to say. Maybe meetings should be more collaborative and informative, instead of impeding productivity. Maybe clear and concise guidelines should be established for meetings – instead of open ended meetings because that’s how we were all taught to administer. This was up in an old meeting room from one of the companies I worked for… and I thought it was relevant. 

1. Only hold a meeting if necessary. 

2. All meetings must have clear objectives. 

3. Invite a neutral facilitator to sensitive meetings. 

4. All meetings must have an agenda which includes:  

  • topics for discussion
  • presenter or discussion leader for each topic  
  • time allotment for each topic 

5. Meeting information needs to be circulated to everyone prior to the meeting. Make sure to include:  

  • meeting objectives  
  • meeting agenda  
  • location/date/time  
  • background information  
  • assigned items for preparation 

6. Meetings must start precisely on time so as not to punish those who are punctual. This also sets the stage for how serious you are about making the meeting effective. 

7. Meeting participants must:  

  • arrive on time  
  • be well-prepared  
  • be concise and to the point  
  • participate in a constructive manner 

8. Meeting notes must be recorded and made part of the company’s meeting information archives. 

9. The decisions made by the group must be documented. 

10. Assigned action items must be documented, and the host, or an appropriate participant, must be appointed to follow-up on the completion of all action items. 

11. Meeting effectiveness must be reviewed at the end of each meeting and suggested improvements applied to the next meeting.

Admittedly, I’m not great at meetings. I just don’t do them if I don’t find them necessary – so I’m always criticized for not meeting enough. I think it’s because I work best autonomously, and I understand that not everyone does that. I’m learning to find that balance, developing my leadership skills in the meeting space, but also making sure I’m not wasting anyone’s time. I’m still learning. Gotta go… I’ve got a meeting.

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