Shopify - Purging Meetings

I was surprised when I read that Shopify was about to purge most meetings. After reading this thread, I was flabbergasted that this is not the first time that Toby pulls this stunt. Furthermore, it seems that the axing, at least in the past, was done with a bot. Which bypasses the organisers agency to remove their own meetings and make their own choices. An odd approach.

Meetings are for the most part terrible. There's usually a combination of waste of time, lack of notes, action points, or even an agenda. People go on tangents, talk over each other, or are distracted with other things. It’s difficult to run an effective and efficient meeting. I do agree that after a certain number of people, meetings are completely useless. There’s value in All-Hands meetings. It can be much more motivating to hear and see a CEO speaking compared to a soulless email. But this is one of the few rare cases where a meeting is the right tool for large audiences.

A few months ago I spent a few hours listening to a podcast about running effective meetings. I would like to share some of the mental notes I took:

  1. Participants should know what’s going to be discussed. This implies an agenda, but you might already know what’s going to be discussed just by the invitation title. With an agenda however, the benefit is that it keeps the organiser honest about their intentions.
  2. Be mindful about when you schedule the meeting. Not just regarding time zones, but also try to keep meetings packed together, so you don’t disrupt long stretches of deep work.
  3. Invite only the necessary people. Often the organiser is afraid of inadvertently offending someone if they aren’t invited. But ask yourself, is the person really necessary for the meeting?
  4. A meeting should have a facilitator and a notes taker. The facilitator is focused on the agenda and the schedule. Making sure that the important topics are being discussed and that they are within schedule. Their focus is that by the end of the meeting all the planned topics are ticked off. This might mean telling someone to stop talking. Or encourage someone to speak-up. Not everyone is capable of doing this effectively. The notes taker is making sure that these notes can be translated into actions. In most places I have worked these two people are one. It’s doable, but it’s not the most effective way to go about it. You can either be a good conversation steer, or notes taker. You can’t do both well.
  5. Make sure you share the notes and actions points with everyone. People should know if they have something assigned to them, by the end of the meeting.

I don’t think any of the above is novel. The conundrum is if a meeting makes sense - versus an email, Slack message, or an RFC. But that’s a discussion for another time.

What troubles me about Shopify’s approach is that it’s vilifying a tool because it’s being poorly used. Moreover, many other companies will follow this approach without thinking from first principles.