If you want to see a genuine smile on an engineer’s face — just tell him that he doesn’t have to attend the next meeting in his schedule. A true joy.

As my calendar started to pile up with more meetings than I can keep track of, I noticed that most of them end without a conclusion or an action item. That made me feel like I wasted my time. It gets worse. Since the meeting ended without a conclusion, a new one had to be scheduled. And the loop goes on and on.

I wanted to improve our meeting culture, so I spent some time thinking about the purpose of those meetings and desired outputs. Every meeting is being scheduled for a purpose. The purpose could be to develop ideas, plan, solve problems, make decisions, create and develop common understanding, encourage enthusiasm and initiative, provide a sense of direction, etc. Each of these meetings can fall into four categories:

  • Inform
  • Consult
  • Solve problems
  • Make decisions

Inform

Objective: Give/receive information about the specific idea or important matters concerning the attendees.

This type of meeting is supposed to take place when you need to share some information with the team, to develop a common understanding about a certain topic. The agenda for this type of meeting should address the following:

Meeting type: Inform — Agenda template

Consult

Objective: Generate fresh ideas about a specific topic. Pool and develop ideas.

This type of meeting helps the organizer to get some fresh ideas, opinions, and feedback from the team. This is a classic brainstorming session, but as a result, it has to generate some kind of output — a mock-up, sketch, document, whatever. The agenda for this type of meeting should address the following:

Meeting type: Consult — Agenda template

Solve problems

Objective: To discuss an issue or conflict and decide how to solve it.

This type of meeting takes place when there is a specific problem that needs to be addressed. This type of meeting has to generate at least one solution. This is different to the brainstorming session since it requires a solution to a specific pressing problem. A good preparation for this meeting should be a well-described problem so that everybody can focus on it. The agenda for this type of meeting should address the following:

Meeting type: Solve problems — Agenda template

Make decisions

Objective: To decide which solution is the best. To determine direction or strategy.

If you have any doubts, this is the meeting type that is supposed to solve them. If you have several solutions on your mind and you need to vote for one, clearly lay down the options in the invite, so that the attendees can prepare and think about each solution in advance. The agenda for this type of meeting should address the following:

Meeting type: Make decision — Agenda template

Meeting invitation

For some time, I’ve insisted that every meeting invitation contains the agenda and the type of the meeting. This way, people involved could prepare for the meeting if some output is required from them. So whoever schedules the meeting has to think about these before sending the invitation:

  1. What is the purpose? (Inform, Consult, Solve problem, Make decision)
  2. Is a meeting appropriate? (To meet or not to meet? Can we settle with an email instead?)
  3. How should the meeting be planned? (Provides structure for the meeting, preparation material. This will be used to judge if the meeting was successful or not.)
  4. Invitation should clearly state: GoalAgenda and Desired output
  5. Who will attend the meeting? (Decider, PO, PM, UX, etc.)

It took some time before we started applying this to everyday routine, but when we did, outputs from our meetings significantly improved. At least there were fewer follow-up meetings, which lead to a less cluttered calendar, which again lead to more time to do the actual work.

I hope this will help you break the loop of infinite meetings.

Originally published in HackerNoon.