Meetings are optional! Work is required.

By: Jeff Howey, cPrime Agile Coach

Meetings are optional. I was introduced to this concept nearly a year ago while working with several clients who have implemented a Results Only Work Environment™ – for more information, you can visit At first, I was skeptical. Agile requires collaboration. Real-time, face-to-face collaboration! How else can that be achieved other than to have a meeting?

But, the more I learned about the concept, the more I agree. Meetings are optional. The intent of collaboration, in Agile, is to get results. Getting results, if we require face-to-face collaboration does not require a meeting, it requires that we get together with intent to work. Doing work and delivering results is what we are hired to do, after all.

This concept was reinforced today (and many times over the last year internally with my own team and while on-site with clients) with such force that I feel compelled to write a little blog post about it as it relates to the difference between meetings and working together. This is especially important for Agile teams and maintaining adherence to the Agile Principles. In particular, meetings can be destructive with regard to the principles of:

  • Conversation (working together, face-to-face, to understand and solve toward delivering valuable solutions to business problems)
  •  Sustainable Environment (minimizing waste, focusing effort on value, maintaining a predictable and reliable cadence toward delivery)
  •  Simplicity (defining a solution that is good enough with the right people working on the right problem at the right time)
  • Self-organizing Teams (where the people who do the work identify who and how the work should be done)
  • Motivation (maintaining an environment where team members are valued, trust one another, and are empowered to use their talents and skills to solve problems)

The particular example today was a meeting to collaborate as a team that was originally scheduled for yesterday. Yesterday, we convened at the proscribed meeting time, but the meeting organizer was unable to attend. After about 10 minutes, one of the team members received a notice on their mobile device that the meeting was rescheduled. Today, we reconvened at the proscribed meeting time; again the meeting organizer was running late. After about 10 minutes, we left the room and all received an invite to get back together at the top of the next hour. During this third attempt at getting together for a meeting¸ the meeting organizer was again running late and asked (via email that was received by our mobile devices) that we just hang tight for 15 minutes and she would be there to join us and “hoped we can stay a little longer.” In all, we had already wasted more than the 30 minutes planned for the entire meeting just waiting for one team member to arrive. Of course, it was this single team member that was critical to the discussion and no work could be done without her involvement.

As a motivated, goal-driven individual I wanted to stay and wait. Other team members also wanted to “get it over with.” But, the Agile Coach in me (and my value of Lean and Agile Principles) led me to ask the team what they wanted to do to self-organize around this problem of not being able to meet. The short discussion resulted in a team-crafted email response of “Let’s get together face-to-face next week when you can commit to doing work with the team you have called together and stop wasting our time.” The email was a little more diplomatic than the sentence I am using here in the blog post, but the point was very clear.

It dawned on me that, as much as I believe the need to meet face-to-face is crucial to Collaboration, this single meeting had created waste, complexity, distrust and frustration. We needed to be very clear as a team that all team members, especially those who were asking for the gift of our time and input in a calendar invite, need to do more than “schedule a meeting” or “put time on the calendar.” Every team member must commit to doing work together and honor the time that is being spent to collaborate on important issues. During this coaching moment with the team, we also identified that several of the meeting invitees had little, or nothing, to contribute that others could not handle effectively on their own.

So, the meeting we had scheduled for yesterday (which was Thursday) and rescheduled several times for today (Friday), will now be a work session on Tuesday next week in which several of us get together to work face-to-face and collaborate to find a solution to our problem, then to design and plan a result. This meeting, that was originally proposed as important, needed and required the attendance of several team members has truly proven itself to be optional. So optional, in fact, that we canceled it (as a team). Those of us who are really needed one, now have a calendar invite that requests our time to get together and work face-to-face. Whether we need 10 minutes or 10 hours to truly solve this problem, we don’t yet know. But we have timeboxed our work session on Tuesday for 30 minutes to start. If we solve the problem in 3 minutes, we will have 27 minutes back to do other work. If the problem takes 3 hours to solve, we will make sure to identify the next steps and individuals needed to work together in future timeboxes of work. We may even put those timeboxes on our calendars as convenient reminders. But trust me, they will not be meetings!

As I conclude this short post, the next thing I will be doing is to go through my calendar and identify those meetings that are optional (and likely change my attendance status) and to make sure I am available to collaborate face-to-face in those predefined timeboxes noted in my calendar – and to show up, on-time, ready to work!