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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

No Meeting Culture

Meetings are boring. Most meetings are irrelevant. There are too many meetings we have to attend.

A confession: during past half of year I organized exactly two meetings with engineers in my team. Both were mostly about organizational issues regarding whole company, not just my team.

How did I do that?

Let’s start with why meetings are organized. Most of the time meetings happen to enable communication between people. Why don’t people just go to meet each other at their desks? Well, because they sit in different places, have different things to do and, often, have little free slots in their calendars. Sometimes they need to prepare themselves to say something reasonable and invitation to the meeting gives them time for that.

Basically all these reasons become non-existent when whole team sits in one place.

You don’t have to busily gather people from different places because, surprise, surprise, everyone is there.

You don’t have to wander what people do at the moment since, well, you just see it in a glimpse. You can make your call whether it’s a good time to interrupt them at the moment or you should wait for a quarter.

You don’t feel urge to finish in planned time slot even when the discussion is great and you’re solving problems like crazy. Neither do you feel this funny feeling when everything was said but no one hurries back to work and you just spend your time on chit chat because a meeting room is reserved for another half an hour.

You can even allow starting talking with folks on subjects they aren’t prepared to. You can because whenever they need to prepare they’ll tell it and a discussion will be restarted later. This is like instantly starting a meeting instead of sending invitations. Odds are everyone is ready and you don’t waste time. If they are not it works similarly to invitation with agenda but better since you start meeting as soon as everyone’s ready.

You should still think how improve transparency and communication flow but, believe me, once you start talking about almost everything in front of your team, even though you’re talking with a person next desk, people will know way more than they would otherwise. It would work that way even if you reported all your workweek on 4-hour long weekly summary with your team, which would be a candidate for the top dumb management practice of a year by the way.

And the best thing. With this approach you magically clear everyone’s calendar. Finding slot when everyone is free becomes the easiest thing under the sun because everyone basically stopped attending meetings.

A cherry on the cake: finding free conference room doesn’t bother you anymore.


It won’t work for 50 people. As far as teams aren’t bigger than 10 people it should do well. Vast majority of teams fall in to this category. Sometimes you need to focus and you don’t care about architecture discussion happening over your desk. You can take a break or try to isolate yourself with headphones. Either way it is a cost, but on average it’s significantly lower than it would be if you switched for old-school meeting approach.

This applies only to team-related meetings. If your people have a lot of cross-team meetings and spend long hours on company-wide roundups filled with jabber this doesn’t have to be huge improvement. But then you’re doomed anyway. One of my engineers attended a few meetings on coding standards beyond these two I organized.

The approach works best for engineers. Project managers and business people will meet other people more often that once per quarter but it should be still an order of magnitude meetings less than it used to be.

I wouldn’t get this kind of crazy idea but it happened so my whole team is collocated and it’s the best organizational thing which could happen. If you think it’s drastic, you’re wrong. Meetingless environment comes naturally. Maybe it so because this way you possibly are all time at the meeting, but at the same time you “meet” people only when it’s really needed.

Try it. And tell me what happens.

in: team management

10 comments… add one

  • Meade November 13, 2009, 7:15 am

    Great article, in total agreement. To many meetings is a good indication that team communication is lacking.

  • Glen B. Alleman November 13, 2009, 8:05 am

    So you've redefined the term "meeting" to be a continuous conversation in the same room you're working?

  • Pawel Brodzinski November 13, 2009, 8:49 am


    Exactly. You can say we have basically no team meetings at all, but you can say we are at the meeting all the time too. It's just sometimes everybody is silent.

  • Josh November 15, 2009, 5:21 pm

    Great post Pawel, this is definitely a huge benefit of co-located small teams.

    I wrote a post a while back on helping your team escape from meeting hell that I was reminded of while reading your post.

  • Rubio January 22, 2010, 2:54 pm

    About open workspaces
    Designing software is knowledge work. Hence it requires concentration. How easily people are distracted by outside interference differs from person to person. Open workspaces incourage people to interact, which, at best, improves communication. At worst, it doesn’t. The frequency of interruption is also increased. When you’re in the “zone”, it usually takes 10-15 minutes to get back into it after an interruption. If you get, say, 4 interruptions per hour, you don’t get much work done. So, to a developer who is sensitive to interference, an open workspace with frequent interruption is an imposible place to work in.

    About meetings
    Whether a meeting was successful can, or at least should, be measured by how well it reached its goal. Therefore each meeting should have a clear goal. What are the problems that need to be solved. What are the things that will be dicussed and, more importantly, as people have a tendency to digress, what are the things that will NOT be discussed. All this requires a strong leader, someone who keeps everyone on track. Another problem with face-to-face meetings is that people with strong personalities tend to overpower the less vocal individuals. Again, it comes down to the leader to keep the discussion balanced. If a discussion starts to get out of hand, I use a mutex, my stress ball. Only the person holding the ball is allowed to talk. (Since it’s soft, it’s safe to throw around.) Well coordinated meetings are extremely fruitful.

  • Pawel Brodzinski January 22, 2010, 3:20 pm


    I am aware of cost of distraction and still I believe co-location is way better than private offices. Actually I think most people are able to turn themselves off in a way they don’t hear other people talking until it becomes interesting. We have these turn-back-on moment all the time: a question is addressed to someone and he tells “give me the context, I haven’t listened to you.”

    Another thing is people rush to tell that each interruption steals 15 minutes of productivity but I haven’t seen people telling how much time it takes when people don’t talk with each other when they should. Well, a couple of hours banging the wall with QA guy head before he asks developer for help? Half a day implementing wrong version because someone hasn’t told it won’t work anyway?

    Send people to different rooms and they will talk with each other few times less. Send people to different floors and they would talk with each other as often as if they sit in different cities.

    I am with you when it comes to a strong personalities who take the meeting over. I am because it sometimes happen that I am the person who drives the meeting in some strange direction and no one “takes the ball” from me since, well, I am the one who should do it. That’s definitely something I need to work on.

  • David Hopkins January 24, 2010, 11:33 am

    You’re describing a “bull pen”. I’ve been designing “bull pens” and putting teams into them for years. When I get into a new group, that is the first order of business. There is no better way for the team to keep on top of the workload as a whole. Currently we have 2, content team and developers. The developers have the fridge so the content team is regularly in there anyway. As a result we have reduced our “meetings” to once a week on Monday morning. This one meeting is where we bring the client into the fold, and air out items where we may need his actions. I’m currently in the US Federal Government arena and getting client buy in is usually not the easiest thing to do.

    Side note, I’m currently in the process of disposing of the “waterfall” methodologies they are using and replacing them with a Kanban board. Wish me luck.

  • Pawel Brodzinski January 24, 2010, 3:08 pm


    I eager to hear your experience with working for Federal Government with less formalized approaches. I’ve always been told they force vendors to follow very strict rules while you seem to have much freedom.

    If you already have all developers in one place Kanban implementation should go smooth. Co-location is a biggest Kanban booster you can think of.

  • Raghavendra Kulkarni March 9, 2010, 3:56 am

    Great post! The upsides & downsides of having meetings at desk have been captured well. In my organization & many other IT companies in India, team members are seated together or near each other so that any intra-team discussions(technical/non-technical) -read meetings happen at desk in quick & efficient manner. However, as has been mentioned in one of the comments, we have often experienced that such discussions might disturb others(from different projects) and hence we try to do a proper balance of meetings at desk and meetings in conference rooms!

  • Pawel Brodzinski March 9, 2010, 9:21 am

    Disturbing others is definitely a downside of this approach and a painful one. If you work in an open space with people from other projects it can be a problem if you discuss your project stuff too frequently.

    I’d advise to organize teams in a way which allows them to occupy one room per one project even if this mean changing desks a couple of times a year. Having said that I’m aware not every company is willing (or can) do this so there will always be these huge open spaces filled with people working on different things where it’s hard to openly talk all the time.

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