Opinions, thoughts, and ideas on leadership, management, software development, and people development.

Category: Decision Making

When is the best time to have a meeting?

Deciding what is the best time of day for a meeting is not always easy. But you can learn how to make this task easier and more effective. And you’ll be surprised how easy it is to learn it.

Do you remember when was the last time you stopped to think about what would be the best time of day to hold a meeting?

I asked myself this exact same question when I read something that changed my perspective on how to define what is the best time for a meeting or to perform some types of work. And that’s what I’ll share with you in this article.

Recently I listened to a podcast where  Daniel Pink, author of “When – The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” was interviewed. was interviewed. At some point during the podcast, the author told something that really captured my attention and made me think about how a change on the way we decide when to do something could lead to better outcomes.

In this article, I’m particularly interested in exploring how to become better, based on Daniel’s findings, at deciding when is the best time of day to have a meeting. Without further ado, let’s take a look at a real-world example where I had to make such a decision and how I approached the decision using what I learned from Daniel.

Recently I’ve got an e-mail asking me for a quick demo on a particular topic. See below the content:

Hi Julio (and everyone),

From your XYZ presentation there was a very interesting topic on creating releases in ABC tool. I would be very interested to have a deeper look at how that works and it would be great if you could give a quick tutorial. I’ve included other people as I think we should have our processes aligned.

Maybe you could set up a short demo and use-case in the next week or so to teach us your ways 🙂

The message above is a clear example of a “when” decision. That is a very common type of decision we do every day many times per day. I’ll describe below how I used to approach such type of decision before.

Step 1

I’ll check my calendar for my available free-time slots (I’ll usually avoid Mondays).

Step 2

I’ll then, supported by the tool, figure out if all people would be available on one of the free spots. I’ll do that until I found a time where everyone would be available.

Step 3

I’ll then start chasing an available meeting room that would fit our needs.

Step 4

Finally, I’ll send the invitation.

The single criteria we use and we don’t even notice

What is the keyword in the steps described before? There is a dominant word that reflects exactly the way we think about this problem. And this word is availability.

Yes, that is the unique criteria I was used to using. And I believe it’s the one most of you might use as well.

What’s wrong with this approach?

The issue with using availability as the single variable in your decision-making process is that you’re not considering how the great majority of us go through the day in terms of focus, energy, and mood. Also, you’re not considering which types of work we do better on each stage. Daniel Pink in his book, “When – The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” named these stages as: Peak, Trough, Recovery.

The author discovered while researching for his book that scientific research was pointing out that our Chronotypes matter when it comes to which type of task we have to fulfil. He also learned that If we’re not doing the right types of work at the right time we’re likely to make more mistakes and being less effective and efficient. And that’s not because we don’t know what we’re doing. It’s just because of how our body and brain work.

Daniel described that for the great majority of us, the best time of the day to perform analytic work or work that requires heads down and focus is early in the mornings, where we are at our Peak stage. There’s, of course, exceptions for those who are night owls, but that’s not the great majority of us according to the author. After lunch, we enter on the Trough stage which is a stage where we have less power to fight distractions and consequently, our focus is dispersed very easily. This particular time of the day should be dedicated to bureaucratic work. Work that doesn’t require creativity or heavy analytical thinking. At the end of the afternoon, we enter the Recovery stage. At this point, our focus increase and our mood get better. That’s the moment of the day for creative work, like brainstormings for instance.

After knowing about this fact and understanding that using just availability as a decision criteria for defining when would be better to have a meeting, one can think at some questions that could lead to a better decision and potentially a better outcome from the meeting as well.

In the case of my colleague’s e-mail, I used the following questions to help me make a better decision:

  1. What type of meeting is this?
  2. What do people expect from this meeting?
  3. Will this require high levels of attention?
  4. Will this require active involvement?
  5. Who’s gonna be there?
    1. Are there gonna be morning people?
    2. Are there gonna be evening people?
  6. Will this meeting require analytical thinking?
  7. Will this meeting require good mood?

My answers to the questions above were:

1 – What type of meeting is this?
It’s a “tutorial” like a meeting.

2 – What do people expect from this meeting?
a) To passively consume information on how to use a particular tool, b) to know how I approach this problem inside the tool, b) To acquire knowledge to judge if that suit their needs or not.

3 – Will this require high levels of attention?
No, people will have to pay attention but it’s not a subject hard to get. So, higher levels of concentration aren’t needed.

4 – Will this require active involvement? No, they can just watch and listen to my presentation/tutorial.

5 – Who’s gonna be there?
5.1 Are there gonna be morning people?
Most people there are morning people.
5.2 Are there gonna be evening people?
6 – Will this meeting require analytical thinking?
7 – Will this meeting require good mood?
Not necessarily.

Based on the answers above I concluded that the best time for this meeting would be right after lunchtime, because a) this is the time where people are more suitable for meetings that don’t require analytical thinking; b) This is a good time for when people just need to consume information; c) The subject won’t require too much thinking; d) Also, we don’t need people to do creative work or good mood at all at this meeting, so having it late afternoon would also not be the best option.

Curious about the final decision?

The final decision was: I scheduled the meeting for 2 pm, right around after lunch, where people will be entering the Trough stage. They can just sit and watch me performing the tutorial/demo and interact with me a few times without having to think too much or do any hard analytical thinking.

Well, that’s a new way to look at “when” decisions and I like it. According to Daniel, in some cases, the efficiency of the work as 20% less efficient as it could be just because it was done at the wrong time of the day. In the end, it’s all about moving the right pieces of work to the right time of the day.

Have a recurrent meeting that it’s not working very well? Read “How to Fix a Broken Meeting” for an idea on how to fix a meeting that it’s not going well.

Decentralized Decision-Making

“Everything you do for the group is one less thing they know they can do for themselves”

Chris Corrigan: The Tao of Holding Space

This Sunday I was reviewing some notes and found one where I captured the quote above.

When reading the quote I remembered a chat I had with a former colleague last Friday where we talked about something related to the quote:

How to act more as a facilitator instead of a decision maker even if you are in a position or have a title that implies that you’re the one in charge of making final decisions.

My colleague told me a story about a meeting he had with one of his teams about how to improve collaboration. While listening to the story, I noticed that the team didn’t have a clear idea of what types of decisions they could make. Questions such as “Can we make this types of decision?” was a clear evidence of that.

Imaginary limitations can hinder the ability to achieve a decentralized decision-making environment. My colleague’s team had so many imaginary limitations in their heads that they’re not seeing which types of decisions they could make. Someone else was deciding for them because they didn’t know they could do it themselves. They thought their bosses were the ones in charge to make decisions.

After listening to the story, I shared my thoughts.

You create more damage than benefit when you decide for someone else or a team. The benefit is that you help to keep things moving and avoid paralysis. Things move faster and towards the direction you want. It looks good at first sight. But if you look at what you’re taking from them you’ll see the big damages you’re creating. You’re preventing them to have a saying on commitments that they’ll have to make. You’re taking from them the opportunity to decide and learn from mistakes. And, you’re hindering their opportunities to improve their decision-making abilities.

I’m not saying you’ll never have to decide on something and that everything can be a team decision. There are for sure certain types of decisions that you will not be able to delegate. Having a clear decision-making framework in place at moments like this would be handy.

Nicolai Foss and Peter Klein argue in the article “Why Managers Still Matter” that “In today’s knowledge-based economy, managerial authority is supposedly in decline. But there is still a strong need for someone to define and implement the organizational rules of the game.”

Source: https://hbr.org/2017/12/when-to-decentralize-decision-making-and-when-not-to

There are many ways to let clear the “rules of the game” and create a decision-making framework. The one I always refer as a good example is the Delegation Board by Management 3.0.

Centralized decision making makes things very slow and bureaucratic. It doesn’t scale and doesn’t allow for self-management inside teams. The establishment of a clear decision-making process will create the necessary conditions to achieve decentralization and increase people’s autonomy. Speaking of self-management, I’d like to share this quote below:

Self-management is self-management of decisions! if there’s no change in who makes decisions and how decisions are made, there’s no self-management of anything and therefore no lasting transformation of anything at tall. And all gains are temporary.

Daniel Mezick.

If you want to create a learning organization you have to provide the right environment for that. Making decisions for others all the time and assuming they don’t have enough capacity to that that is not a good way to establish such conditions and an indicator that the level of trust is very low amongst peers.

When you decide on behalf of other you take from this person the chance to learn because the decision-making process is also a learning process. To make a decision one have to understand variables, explore topics you didn’t know before, have a better of how the business work. This thought process helps people to increase their frame of reference and making better decisions over time. Also, they’ll get a better of how their decisions contribute to the organization’s results.

The level of commitment to the decision is also affected. When you make a decision, it’s your commitment not other’s people commitment. If the team make a decision, it’s their commitment.

Sometimes we have to “learn to hold space”. We have to learn how to be patient and how to prompt discussions that will help people to realize what they have to. Some might argue that this takes much more time when compared to telling people what to do. You can do this for a while, but when you turn our attention to your people, all you’ll see is demotivation, low morale, bad mood. Everything we don’t want to have inside our teams and organizations.

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