As a project leader, nearly every day, you may have one or more meetings. But do you ever asked yourself and the meeting participants: “Why do we have this meeting”? If not, this question should become an inherent part of all your meetings.
Meetings are expensive. They will cost your time and the time of all participants. And if you count up the hourly wage of all participants, it will cost your employer a lot of money. But of course, meetings are important. A good communication is one of the most important things for the project success. But on the other hand, too many meetings, loose goals, poor preparations or the wrong participants can lead to an inefficient and expensive meetings culture.
An easy way to improve the meeting culture is to ask the “Why” question. Try it at the beginning of your next meeting, but of course only if you are the moderator. Ask the question: “Why do we have this meeting”?
If you ask the “Why” question, you will very often get answers which actually answer “What” we want to do in the meeting, instead of “Why” we want to do that. Of course in most cases, such answers are also helpful and you should praise them, but you should not accept it as the final answer.
Let’s have an example. On your next daily scrum, start the meeting with the question: “Why do we make a daily scrum meeting”? I’m sure you will get answers like: “We want to do the team synchronization”, “We have do assign tasks” or “The sprint progress should be updated and visualized”. These are good answers, but all of them only answer the “What” question. So ask again: “And why do we all these things”? Maybe you will get an answer. If not you can leave this question open till the next daily and ask it again. I think a good answer for the “Why” question can be: “We do the daily scrum, so that the team can work efficiently and focused on the print goals.”
When to ask “Why”
The “Why” question can be asked in different situations:
- Ask it to yourself when you create an meeting invitation
- Ask it to yourself when you prepare the content for your meeting
- Ask it to yourself when you get an invitation for a meeting
- Ask the participants of your meeting at the beginning of the meeting
Create a meeting invitation
If you want to do a meeting, at first, you have to ask yourself why you want to schedule this meeting. You have to have a clear picture of your goals. And now, with this picture in mind, you can start to think about the meeting content, about the right participants and you can create a meeting agenda.
An important thing is to have the right participants in your meeting. You should only invite people who can contribute something to reach the meeting goal. And you must invite the needed decision-makers.
For example, as a project leader, you desperately need human resources from the department X and department Y. But these resources will be deprived to you or they will temporarily withdraw from your project again and again, so that project deadlines are endangered. So you want to invite for a meeting to speak about this situation. Now, at first, you have to ask yourself “Why do I invite to this meeting”. To ask for human resources? No! That will only answer what you want to speak about in the meeting. But, you do this meeting to achieve the project goals and project deadlines. So if you only look at the “What” question, you may invite the head of department X, the head of department Y and the according developers. But if you look at the “Why” question you will see that you don’t have to invite the developers. Instead, a very important person is missing at the moment. You have to invite the product owner because he is the decision-maker for this kind of topic. Therefore, to ask the “Why” question, will help you to invite the right persons.
Prepare the meeting
Whether it is a meeting that you have scheduled or where you are a participant, you should ever prepare yourself for the meeting. To do so, you should at first ask yourself: “Why do we have the meeting”? With respect to this question you can do an efficient meeting preparation.
For your own meeting the “Why” question is answered quickly because you already have answered it when creating the invitation. But if you are a participant of a meeting it might not that easy. Sometime you will find the answer in the invitation, but that’s a rarely exception. So you have two possibilities: Try to answer the “Why” question for yourself or ask the person which is responsible for the meeting. The first option is risky because you may have your own interpretation of the meeting cause. So if the “Why” question is not clearly answered in the invitation, don’t be afraid to ask the meeting creator.
Start the meeting with the “Why” question
As described above it can be helpful to start the meeting by asking the “Why” question. I think this is for example very helpful in recurrent meetings like scrum meetings. Furthermore you can also ask this question during a meeting, whenever you have the feeling that the participant have lost focus on the target.
To ask “Why do we have this meeting” will help you to do more efficient meetings. You may ask this question to yourself, to the meeting creator and to the meeting participants. So let it be a part of your daily business and a part of every meeting preparation.