Diving into Management – How to do Meetings

In the past months I had the ability to lead small teams in various little projects (for a few days to weeks). This all happened in some open source projects and in my evening classes. I had a course about project management and management levels a few semesters back. I learned a lot of theory back then, so I was happy to finally try this ‘in the real world’. I would like to share my experiences about meetings with you today.

Have you ever met a sysadmin that likes to attend meetings (except for puppet core/module triage)? The excuses I heard the most were:

  • The meetings are too long
  • We were offtopic or there wasn’t even a real topic

Here are my tips if you have to plan and head a meeting:

  • First of you should really think about the people you invite. What is the topic you want to discuss and do you really need to invite 20 people? Do they have to contribute something or would it be enough to send them the procotol afterwards?
  • Somebody has to write a protocol!
  • Set a time limit, never meet longer than 90 minutes
  • Create an agenda, and honor it. This helps everybody to keep the focus on the topic. Also everybody feels a bit more happy if an item on the agenda is achieved.
  • If the meeting is expected to be short (like a daily meeting): Do it standing (like, without chairs, on your feet).
  • Longer discussions are always easier if the environment is nice. organize beanbag chairs, try to do them outside in the sunlight, or in a room with huge windows.
  • Everybody should have the equal rights in a discussion. Introverted and shy people often feel more welcomed on a desk without corners. Or better, without a desk if it isn’t needed.
  • If many people have to made a status report (e.g. a weekly meeting): Assign short timeslots to everyone. If the speaker hits the limit but wants to talk further, people should do a short vote and may double his slot. Do not allow more extensions, do a separate meeting instead.
  • prepare yourself for the meeting. Write a few notes down, even if you think that you have everything in mind. This can also be used as a groundwork for the protocol.

Dealing with distracted attendees
Everybody has seen this: You are trying to explain a complicated topic, but somebody is playing with his smartphone. There are a few possible reasons for this:

  • The meeting is too long! Try to not hit the 90 minutes barrier
  • You are not prepared enough and have a many pauses for thoughts.
  • The person just has other things in mind, for example his new girlfriend and wants to chat with her

Besides better preparation and shorter meetings I can also recommend a smartphone bowl. Everybody puts their smartphones at the beginning of the meeting into a bowl or pot or whatever. This will motivate everybody to not meet longer than needed. Each person whose smartphones rings has to pay the cake for the following Tuesday.

The cakeday
This started as a little project a few years back. Everybody needs a few constant events in his weekly routine (I learned that mostly from Sheldon Cooper, so it maybe is not *that accurate*). For example watching game of thrones on Tuesday or buying petrol on Monday. Positive events in general cheer everyone up, positive events at work are good for the working atmosphere and the productivity. I introduced a Cakeday at work. This is a horrible translation from German and has nothing to do with a birthday. It is just the description of every Tuesday, where somebody in a team organizes a cake. Sadly I noticed my naming fail after I introduced #cakeday on twitter, so I won’t change it but instead continue to confuse people. I introduced the cakeday at my regular job and also in a different project. Where is the coherence to meetings? As this is a (hopefully positive) constant event at work, people seem to be a bit happier. I combine cakedays with days with lots of meetings. The cakeday is a good compensation for meetings. Exchanging the Cake with a BBQ also worked pretty well.

Notice and disclaimer
Do not take any advice in this post serious. I’m new to the whole topic and doing a lot of stuff not optimally. Please let me know when you have got any suggestions, improvements or cookies. To get the bachelor degree I have to make a project, starting in September 2015 and ending in May 2016. The difference to most universities is that all students here are already qualified sysadmins or developers and work full-time. The goal of the project is not only to prove a certain knowledge about information technology, but also about project management. Thus the project has to be realised by a group of people, three in my case. The topic of my team is “Datawarehousing for Cloud Computing Metrics“. I have the project manager role and will try to document our process through the project in a new blog series.

I learned that successful meetings aren’t that hard but still require work. Also cake makes everything better. Please let me know if you think I’m wrong with any of my points or if you have suggestions!

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