How often should I have meetings?

Meeting cadences are highly specific to the type of business, projects under way and the nature of the team and the kind of work they are doing at the moment.

Here are some typical meetings for a small engineering team in a startup setting with 10 – 50 engineers.  It assumes that the startup has grown enough to have a VP Engineering on staff.  Your mileage may vary, especially if your team is in a different stage or does substantially different work.  For instance, this will not work at all for a field sales organization – but the same types of conversations will probably make sense at a different frequency.

  • Daily team scrums: Individual teams (e.g. mechanical, electrical, controls, software) do a stand-up meeting for 15 minutes each day using the traditional Agile-style scrum format, to update each other on the current status. Each scrum team should not exceed 5-7 people.  If the team is much bigger than that, it probably needs to be broken up into two scrum teams.  In this meeting, each engineer provides an update by answering three questions: “What did I do yesterday? What will I do today? What is holding me up?”
  • Tiger teams: Sometimes, cross functional tiger teams are created to deal with specific issues or projects.  These teams will get together at their own cadence to deal with specific issues (sometimes weekly, sometimes multiple times a day – it depends). Tiger teams are often dissolved when the issues are resolved, and the associated meetings will be retired as well.
  • Weekly 1×1’s between managers and direct reports: This is an opportunity for team leads and managers to have quality face time with individual contributors and understand how they are doing, capture issues and concerns, and get any obstacles out of the way so the contributors can perform at their maximum potential. The 1×1 format is ideal for sharing sensitive issues that may be difficult to discuss in a group setting.  It is one of the most effective tools of the trade for every personnel manager at every level in the organization (including the CEO).
  • Weekly VP Engineering Staff meetings: The VP Engineering and all of his direct reports meet as a group once a week. The VP Engineering shares company context with leads who actively push this information through the organization. This group of engineering leaders will also discuss issues of the week, and spin off activities to address open issues.
  • Engineering all-hands meeting: The entire engineering team should get together once a month, or once every two months, to share the overall picture of where things are holistically, and where the team, technology and product development efforts are going. This helps build cohesiveness in a larger team that usually works in smaller groups.  Note that this is in addition to any company-wide all hands meetings, which tend to occur at a lesser cadence than functional all-hands meetings when the company headcount gets to about 100 or so.
  • Consider creating a “lunch and learn series” and assign somebody to be “content czar” to solicit speakers and organize the schedule.  This is an optional social gathering, in which people take turns to share something new once every few weeks over a brown bag lunch.  The topic can be related to their work, or it can be related to completely random topics (e.g. I learned all about the MIT Blackjack Team in one such talk).  This is a great way to get people from different teams to show what they know and love.  It also helps people develop relationships,  and learn about something interesting from a coworker they do not usually work with
  • Consider small-group lunches with the engineering leaders or with other members of senior staff, where individual contributors get quality time with the leadership.
  • If team leads need help building relationships and/or collaboration norms, consider inventing a daily “scrum of scrums” for a few weeks to help them get comfortable working together, and disband this when they are working fluidly together.

This post is part of an article on Elaine Chen's blog.

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