Cancelling meetings isn’t a magical fix

A man and a woman in business attire giving each other a high five. They are sitting around a laptop and some papers in an office

Meetings have a bad reputation, and deservedly so. Apart from perhaps spreadsheet applications, I can’t think of something that’s so misused. “If we cancel all meetings,” the thinking goes, “we will have more time to get work done.” That’s an appealing-but-incorrect line of thinking.

The Twist blog has a great article on why asynchronous work is more than just a lack of meetings. The reasoning in that post applies to open source projects, too, but the considerations are a little different. Open source projects should conduct work outside of meetings whenever possible for the main reason that meetings are inherently exclusionary.

When you hold a meeting in a company context, the company is providing the equipment and a salary in exchange for your time. In open source projects, the participants are often volunteers using their own equipment and time. They need the bandwidth or phone, and the time away from work or personal obligations in order to attend.

As I wrote in chapter 6 of Program Management for Open Source Projects, in addition to the challenges that time zones present, people in the same time zone will have different availability based on whether or not they can join meetings at work. Some can only join outside of working hours while others might only be able to join during working hours.

The moment you schedule a meeting, you’re making a choice to exclude at least some of your potential audience. This means you need to make sure the value of holding a meeting exceeds the value of having a slower, more-inclusive conversation. Valuable meetings increase the amount of work that gets done because they ensure coordination and accountability. Keep the valuable meetings and cancel the rest.

This post’s featured photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

Ben formerly led open source messaging at Docker and was the Fedora Program Manager. He is the author of Program Management for Open Source Projects. Ben is an Open Organization Ambassador and frequent conference speaker. His personal website is Funnel Fiasco.


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