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I work for a software development team in which some people just don't know when to stop talking. A very common pattern I have noticed is when someone comments something then another person states something else agreeing with the first, then a third one adds a remark also agreeing and then they start discussing small things on the issue for the next 4 hours.

I see most of this behavior as Parkinson's law of triviality, but not entirely.

This is a problem as it's not productive and not to mention annoying since their will to speak is so great that they may keep interrupting me from speaking for over half an hour, that's how long it took me last time to tell them their whole discussion was pointless because it was based on a false premise.

The project manager stated me today that he thinks it's dangerous to do daily meetings (part of Scrum) because they could lead to daily very unproductive meetings, but I feel management is a bit far from the team due to the lack of those meetings and that leads to several side-effects including me getting less recognition.

I tried to explain the manager is his responsibility to drive productive behavior during the meetings and that he can help people achieve that by for example, bringing a ball to the meeting and requiring people to have the ball to speak or raising their hands, but I had no success.

This is draining my faith on the team and the company, so I'd like to give the managers tips on how to conduct more productive meetings and avoid unproductive, unscheduled meetings (as the manager is a developer who manages rather than a manager), but I realize I'm not the best person for this kind of advice.

What could I do to help resolve this kind of situation?

  • Related on Programmers (but probably different since this is about meetings in general). – Telastyn Mar 4 '15 at 21:53
  • Extremely related but I'm the newer guy, so I get those with inverted roles, when my coworkers review what I just did they focus on trivialities, I realize they have a poor knowledge on computer science and fail to get them to realize they are adding no value to the software with their reviews – user33065 Mar 4 '15 at 22:03
  • Are your Scrums stand up meetings? – thursdaysgeek Mar 4 '15 at 22:07
  • Real easy. Schedule the meeting for 1 hour before end of the work day and it will end itself. – paparazzo Mar 4 '15 at 22:07
  • We don't do Scrums and I think that leads to other problems we are having, the scrums were a suggestion I gave to tackle them, but the manager said he was afraid they would turn into very unproductive long meetings – user33065 Mar 5 '15 at 12:14
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This sounds like inexperienced managers. "Tips and tricks" are nice, but really it is a matter of controlling the meeting and this takes practice and experience. There are no short-cuts.

When things are working right, you schedule meetings in advance, terminate them on time, and ALWAYS have an agenda distributed well before the meeting. There should also be some type of follow-up actions required of named participants to be reviewed later (or at the next meeting). Somebody should take minutes and share them after the meeting with all participants. This kind of structure and the discipline of someone gently ushering the agenda along, will keep things under control in most situations.

As far as people talking, it is really important that people do talk and get feedback from peers and superiors but not necessary within the context of a meeting. I think that your attitude about talking is borderline dismissive but understandable if undermines your meetings. If people talk too much at meetings, maybe it is because they feel they don't have a chance to be heard at other times?

All that said, you should be glad that people ARE talking. It is good problem to have.

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It doesn't sound like this is your problem to solve, since you're not running the meetings. But, if the person running the meeting is interested in solutions, here are some that will help.

  • For short meetings, such as scrum, make sure they are stand up meetings. People get tired of standing pretty quickly, and won't want to prolong the standing just so they can talk.
  • For all meetings, have an agenda. For each point, indicate about how much time you're going to spend on that section. And then the person leading the meeting has to enforce that, interrupting and cutting people off in necessary.
  • As Blam says in the comments, have the meeting right before the end of the day, or an hour before lunch, so that people have a stronger incentive to get the meeting done and over.
  • Make sure the meetings are necessary! If the information can be disseminated in a more efficient manner, such as email, then skip having a meeting at all.

You can encourage the person leading the meeting by trying yourself to keep to the agenda and communicating appropriately. But, since you're new, you'll also have to listen and let them talk at times. As you gain credibility, you will gain influence. But you don't gain credibility by getting them to quit talking -- you gain it by doing a great job in a way that helps the company look good too.

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There is no such thing as a "productive meeting". Trying to induce more meetings will not lead to greater "recognition" for you, unless you want more recognition as a talker.

Trust me, no matter how braindead you think your boss(es) is/are, they know your value to them. Even the most retarded boss in the world has a rough idea of what everybody is doing and whether they ought to be fired or not. The mistake you are making is thinking that what your boss says to you reflects what he thinks about you.

Your second mistake is thinking that the quality of your work or your value is related to when you are promoted or what you are paid. There is only a very loose connection between those things. Whether you get promoted or not has very little to do with how good a programmer you are or how much work you do. For example, if they have no money, they are not going to pay you more, even if you are frickin Linus Torvalds. Conversely, if they get a new $50 million contract, guess what, you will get a lot of money, even if you are biggest loser in the company.

Your third mistake is to think something you might say will somehow change the way your boss deals with you and your co-workers. Just reading that sentence makes me laugh.

Your best action is to shut up and focus on your skills. If, by some miracle, you actually become a good programmer (something I doubt will happen, given your interest in "meetings"), you will magically and automatically be transported to a lucrative and satisfying position (like the one I have).

  • 2
    I dislike the tune of this answer. It seems very patronizing and dismissive of the OP. Shut up and focus on your skills...no such thing productive meeting etc... – Anthony Mar 5 '15 at 2:37
  • @Anthony Maybe if I went to more meetings I would be more diplomatic. I am spelling out the hard truth for the OP in terms that will effect him. Some milkatoast blather about "teamwork" will not do him any good in his current situation, and would in fact be counterproductive. – Socrates Mar 5 '15 at 2:54
  • I wash my hands blog.8thlight.com/uncle-bob/2014/05/02/…, and I'm trying to convince them to wash theirs. Until the manager is convinced of the value in washing our hands he won't recognize my value on the team. – user33065 Mar 5 '15 at 12:02

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