Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What is a trashcan meeting?

When sitting in a meeting the other day, I coined a new term: “Trashcan meeting”. It’s my description of a common problem: throwing away time in meetings.

Are all meetings a waste of time? Of course not, but they are getting a bad name, and like most things it is because a few people spoil them for the rest of us.

Here are some practical tips for making sure you are never forced to attend another “Trashcan meeting”:

Insist on an agenda
Think about it: You are going to attend a meeting where any topic is germane to the discussion?

An agenda ensures everyone knows what is going to be discussed, and that the topics are indeed something that needs to be discussed.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agenda_(meeting):
An agenda is a list of meeting activities in the order in which they are to be taken up, beginning with the call to order and ending with adjournment. It usually includes one or more specific items of business to be considered. It may, but is not required to, include specific times for one or more activities.

Set a time limit, and remind everyone before it starts that there is a time limit
Since your working with an agenda, you should know how long a meeting should take.

Insist on specific topics
Topics should be discussed, and decisions made. If the discussion takes longer than the time limit, use judgment in determining if the discussion is superfluous, or productive.

If discussion wanders, remind others of the current topic.

Only meet with decision makers
Ever attend a meeting with someone that constantly says “Sounds good, but I need to run it by [Insert Name Here] before I can approve it”. Why meet and discuss something with someone that cannot make the decision? Chances are the true decision maker is going to want to make a change, or not agree with the result…. Then what good was the meeting in the first place?

Joel on Software addresses this general topic as well, which you might find interesting:

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