Clinical Meetings

As I've transitioned into being a Senior Manager, I feel like I've had to quickly adapt and learn all sorts of new skills and techniques around the meta of squad management - the management of managers who manage squads.

One of the things that really used to irritate me as a squad lead were redundant meetings. You know them, you've all sat through them - the meetings where you know almost everyone is doing something else and questions asked to the room are met by an aggressive level of silence and apathy.

Yet, in my first month at my new level, I found myself falling into the same trap, asking my squads to attend meetings where only a fraction of the individuals there were actually engaged. It even felt like the right thing to do to include everyone, to make sure everyone had the same opportunity to gain context and insight.

The realisation of this was crushing and I was so disappointed in myself. “Those that do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.". Damn.


Not all was lost though. I started by declaring myself meeting-bankrupt and admitted failure. I cancelled every meeting I owned - those I started and those I inherited - and started again but clinically limiting any meeting to as few people as possible. Tons of people were uninvited from recurring meetings but few people were concerned enough to actually speak to me about it.

It turns out this move has been almost everything I'd hoped for and I'm seeing really positive influences…

  • Daytime is Precious : There's only so many hours in the day to work sustainably, so asking someone to attend a meeting is a really huge deal. People appreciate you leaving them out of shit meetings and then appreciate the value even more when they are asked to attend.
  • Psychological Safety : I believe I have more honest and candid conversations with the people in the meeting if there are fewer people there.
  • Clearer Accountability : It's clear if you are in the room, you are not an observer. Contribution is expected, commitment to the outcomes is inferred.
  • Being Present : It's far harder to hide or focus on Slack when there's only three of you in a meeting.
  • Empowerment : It felt like a good signal to empower my squad leads with communicating to their squads rather than taking responsibility for it.

Meetings are concluded quicker and actions are decided with minimal fuss - but I'm seeing a secondary effect that squads seem to be more focused on the actions they've been asked to accomplish. Too wide a lens has potentially been distracting for them…

I strongly recommend you experiment with this approach.

Next Iteration

My next iteration on this meeting format is to expect statuses for meetings to be pre-written and read by the participants before the meeting has begun. Jeff Bezos runs this within his senior executive meetings at Amazon, but I only expect that a minimal amount of writing is done to bring together the narrative of the active epics in a squad, leaning as much on the existing context as possible (I can read a JIRA ticket when forced to ;))

My intent behind this is to…

  • Written Communication : My squad leads need to be able to communicate effectively in a written format, so emphasizing it as such gives them the opportunity to practice. I only get to practice by doing this blog… ;)
  • Asynchronous Engagement : By writing things down, it allows us to consume the details at our own pace and prepare for the meeting effectively rather than react to the situation in the room.
  • Record of Achievement : Allows those in the meeting to also get a sense of the status of projects without having to attend, as well as giving us a clear audit trail of how things have progressed over the time frame - which is especially useful come personal review time.

I'll report back with how this goes.