Kumar Dattatrey...: Hi everyone. This is Kumar Dattatreyan with Agile Meridian. We're live for another agile short with my good friend ,and colleague, Michael Franz. Michael, how you doing today?
Michael Franz: I'm doing great, thanks Kumar.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Michael Franz: All right. Well, I'm a servant leader currently working as an enterprise agile coach, supporting several clients, but working with you at one in particular. Just really trying to help people do their best work, help organizations adapt to this crazy world we're in. And of course, with a focus on people and empowering people.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Right. That's great. So is that your title, servant leader?
Michael Franz: That's the one I like to use. Officially I'm an enterprise agile coach, or a portfolio coach, a transformation agent, change agent, depending. But yeah, the one that I like to introduce myself as a, servant leader. Absolutely
Kumar Dattatrey...: Interesting. How does that play out when you say, "I'm a servant leader?" How do people react to that?
Michael Franz: A lot of times they wonder what I mean by that, right? Where's your focus? If they've been in transformation, or they've been doing agile transformation for any amount of time, they generally understand what my role is. My role is not here to tell people what to do. It's just, let's experiment together. Let's take some best practices from the industry, and let's maybe find a way to use them right. Really just serving other people's needs and goals as a facilitator of success for them.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Right. That makes a lot of sense. Today's topic is really about meetings, and our title of course is, no more meetings. And I know in this remote environment where most everyone is working from home. It can be really tough because you're constantly on moving from one meeting to another. So the common refrain in these meetings is, we can't get anything done. We've got to do our work after work hours. It's just a really grueling day if you're sitting in front of your computer, pretty much all day going from meeting to meeting, to meeting, to meeting. So we thought we would talk about maybe some alternatives to meetings, the traditional meetings where you invite a bunch of people, and you have a topic, and you just talk about it. What are your thoughts around that?
Michael Franz: Well, I certainly agree. We have way too many meetings. There's so much pressure on our time. When you think about the COVID world, or post COVID, or whatever it is we are. We're online all day, and we still have the same delivery expectations of execution that we've had prior to this. And yet every bit of communication is in some kind of remote meeting. And That cuts into all of the things that we need to get it done, the collaboration that needs to take place, the deeper thinking on the work that we're trying to do, those kinds of things.
And then of course, we've got to write some code if we're in technology, or we've got to do some things, right? Do some planning, plan some work, do some roadmaps, that sort of thing. So, yeah, I think we're see it everywhere. We're seeing a people crying out for help saying, "Listen, please, no more meetings, no more, I can't get my work done." And then of course in our industry, we're trying to coach people, train people, and show them something a little different, or new to do. There's no time for that because they're in all these meetings. So what do we do?
Kumar Dattatrey...: Right. One of the things that we are trying is this idea of asynchronous meetings. Asynchronous communication is not really new, right, coach Michael?
Michael Franz: No. Email's been around a long time.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Exactly. Email is the earliest, well, letters, mail. I don't know if anyone mails letters anymore, but certainly when you mail a letter to their loved ones, or maybe not so loved ones, it's a form of asynchronous communication. You compose it, you send it off, and the party that's receiving then gets it days, weeks later, and they respond, right, eventually. What we're thinking, what we're talking about really is asynchronous modes of communication for meetings. So might seem like, well, how do you do that? Because you need people in the meeting. What are your thoughts around that?
Michael Franz: Yeah, I think that's the challenge, right? When you think about how do I get this information across to the people that I need to get into, and how do I get a response? How do we have decisions made? That's what we're worried about when we're meeting, right? Those are the kinds of things. And asynchronous is saying, listen, can we maybe, can we do some of that stuff? Instead of meeting face to face and adding, is there another way to have that kind of meaningful conversation, maybe even some decision making, maybe even some record keeping of what we're trying to do.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Yeah.
Michael Franz: So I think we should, it's one of many tools, obviously, and as we're trying to reduce the meeting load, and the drain on everyone's time. But we certainly need to explore that as a capability, or a methodology.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Yeah, So maybe it's important for us to sort of define what is an asynchronous meeting, and what is a synchronous meeting, right? A synchronous meeting, it's simple, it's the meetings that you go to every day, and all the time, multiple times a day, right? You're in a physical or virtual space with other people that have been invited into that meeting. Hopefully there's an agenda, there's a purpose, there's a desired outcome. There's a facilitator, maybe a note taker, and you discuss whatever the topic of the meeting is. And you hopefully come to a mutually agreeable conclusion, right? Where there's some decisions that are made. What about asynchronous? What parts of those don't happen, or do they all happen?
Michael Franz: Well, yeah, I think the biggest thing about asynchronous is you're not face to face, right? The idea isn't we're going to bring everyone together into one place, and hash these things out. We're going to do it in a different way, whether it's a Teams chat, or an email, or so many different tools. Slack is a great one that's out there that really empowers conversation, right?
Kumar Dattatrey...: Yeah.
Michael Franz: But not everyone together at the same time. Asynchronous is saying, you've got a timeframe, but get to it when you can, maybe in between one of those other meetings, or you can set a time, side time for it.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Right, yeah. You're right about the tools. The tools have really proliferated over the past couple of years, and gotten more robust, more powerful. I know I use the video feature in Trello to record short little videos for people I work with that are 13 hours in a different time zone, 13 hours away. That's how we communicate because we only have a limited amount of face to face synchronous time that we sometimes don't even need it, because we've been communicating asynchronously pretty much the whole day. I might leave a short video, I might get a short video back, and it seems to work for us. But you're right, I think all the elements of synchronous meetings exist in asynchronous meetings. It's just the medium that's a little different. So instead of inviting everyone into a common shared space, you invite people into a common shared asynchronous space where people can leave their thoughts, their comments, their decision points, or their recommendations, or whatever it might be.
But all the other elements of a meeting are true. There's still a purpose, right? We are here to decide on X, there is an agenda, we need to talk about these five agenda items. And there's ideally some sort of an outcome that you're looking to gain from the meeting. And then it's about a time limit, right? So that it doesn't drag on for a month. That's probably one of the key aspects of asynchronous meetings, that if you let it, it'll just keep going, and there won't be any resolution. So there's a time limit. I would say that there's probably a learning curve here, right? To get people used to asynchronous meeting.
Michael Franz: Absolutely. And there's a culture, a requirement as well. It has to be okay to do that, right? You have to feel like you're still contributing. One of the things that I really like about asynchronous, kind of an earlier comment that I made where I said some of the pressure when you're doing synchronous meetings, and so many of them as well, you just don't have the time to really think about, and come to some deeper conclusions about the material that you're discussing. A lot of times you're on the spot, you weren't ready for the meeting to begin with, or if you were it's one of 20 today, so it only gets this little bit of attention. Asynchronous allows you to really think through whatever that agenda is, right? If you've got an agenda set up, and there's a timeframe, a time box to get it done, you can really think through, and give some valuable insight to whatever the topics you're discussing. It gives time for that. I think we're getting higher quality results that way.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Yeah, that's a good insight. The meetings that we all go to every day, day after day, hours on end. I question, I don't question, I just don't think they're very productive. People are multitasking. They're probably doing work that they haven't been able to get to because they're in all these meetings, right? You may have 20 people, or 10 people in a meeting, and there's two people talking, right? So it's essentially a waste of those other eight people's time that are in there. I really do think that asynchronous meetings help involve more people because they have more time to involve themselves when they have the time, they can review the agenda, they can share their thoughts. They can review the threat of information that's already there, and they can more engaged in the outcome of that meeting. What about some pitfalls of asynchronous meetings?
Michael Franz: Yeah, obviously there's going to be pros and cons. I think one of the cons that really, I think the very first one that stands out to me is just, if you don't have a time box, or an expectation of a time range, you have this much time to get this conversation, or this asynchronous decisions made, or something. It will go on forever. People have to, they have to make part of their culture their daily work ethic to engage that way. Otherwise you may not get a timely answer. And that may mean that it's not the right topic for an asynchronous meeting. There's a time and place for this tool. That stands out to me as being one of the big challenges is, when am I going to get my answers, or when am I going to get the knowledge that I need from the engagement?
Kumar Dattatrey...: Yeah, that's a great point, right? The pitfalls of course is the time, if there's no time boundary, then you'll probably just keep going without a resolution. You'll have to call a meeting, a synchronous meeting to get there. And that will probably backfire, and people just won't want to do it. Let's just do a meeting, it's just easier, right? So I'd say the key aspects of running an effective asynchronous meeting, like you said, set a deadline to review the agenda for instance, put out the agenda and say, "Okay, by 4:00 PM today, please, everyone have your comments back about the agenda. Are there any other items that you want to add? Any status that you want to share? Anything else that you want to discuss in the meeting?" And then it's for the facilitator.
That's a key point. There needs to be a facilitator for it.
Michael Franz: Always.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Just like there is always for a synchronous meeting. If you're running the meeting, asynchronous meeting, you are facilitating the asynchronous conversation just as if it was synchronous, right? So you are keeping notes, keeping track of decisions, maybe probing with questions for people that have left their thoughts, or comments in the whatever tool you're using to run it; Slack, Trello, whatever it might be. Another key thing is, just like in synchronous meetings, we don't do those really, all that well as facilitators, I don't think, is involving everyone in the meeting, right? In asynchronous meetings it's absolutely critical to get everyone to respond, right? So make that response mandatory. Anything else you can think of in terms of rules of asynchronous meetings?
Michael Franz: Well, I think you hit a really important part there when you were talking about making sure everyone has a voice. We as facilitators, professional facilitators, we're constantly trying to do that in synchronous meetings, and it's hard, it's hard work, especially the more people you have.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Right.
Michael Franz: If you think about from their perspective, a lot of people just don't want to speak up, sometimes it's because they don't feel like they have the right information, sometimes they're lost in the crowd. The beautiful thing about asynchronous is for those kinds of people who may have some challenge, some insecurity, or some distraction to speak up in that synchronous, this is great, it makes it easier for them. They can take the time, they can speak carefully through writing, write through their words within the asynchronous format.
And you're going to get, I think, if it's facilitated, your point, you have to have it facilitated. You're going to get that engagement easier than you would in a synchronous meeting. Yeah. And you think about, you hit on making response mandatory. That goes back to that kind of culture of empowerment that says, "Look, if you're part of an asynchronous meeting, everyone, the goal is everyone must write something, right?" Whether it's just an agreement with someone that's the minimum entry, if you will, but we expect everyone to partake in that, and have a voice.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Right.
Michael Franz: I think that's really powerful.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Yeah. I think what I didn't say, and I should have is just like with synchronous meetings, psychological safety, super important. So it is with asynchronous meetings, right? The first thing is when you share an asynchronous meeting agenda, you share the purpose, and you ask people, the people that have been invited, do you have something to contribute to this topic? And if they don't, they can take themselves out, right? Because why require people to respond, and participate in a meeting that they have no interest in, or they have no value to bring, right?
And that's true for synchronous meetings as well. In fact, that's even more important with synchronous meetings is that the people that are there, if you have a meeting on a regular basis with 12 people, and two or three people are talking, I would question the invitees and say, "Do you guys really need to be here?" Again, not a knock on the nine people that aren't participating, but perhaps they don't need to be there. Perhaps it's just a smaller meeting, right. Three or four people. And that's true for asynchronous as well, right. Get the right people in the room so they can make decisions and move forward. The faster you can make decisions, the better.
Michael Franz: Agree. That goes into a whole nother, we could have a whole nother conversation on healthy meeting etiquette, and having the right people, and not forwarding it to everybody and their best friends. Having that very focused meeting. But it applies is an asynchronous as well. I think you made that point. We just have to be very focused, and we want the people that can contribute. If they can't, they don't need to be there, they really don't.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Right. You know one of the ways I see asynchronous meetings really helping synchronous meetings, is to do all that divergent activity, where you're sort of collecting ideas from a group, and you're collating the ideas, and you say the purpose is to decide on, I don't know, whatever it might be, decide on a color scheme for the website. All these opinions come in, and you start to collate them, and you start to whittle them down until you have a few options, five or six options.
At that point you can do one or two things; you can continue the asynchronous route, and you can have people vote on the color choice that really resonates with them, or you can take the people and say, "Hey, let's get together and have some face to face time, and really talk about why these five are the options that you came up with, and which should we use for our website, our branding, or whatever it might be." It's a way to when you get into that synchronous meeting now, you have a lot of data, and you have a lot of goodwill, and sort of investment into the meeting already has taken place. People are there to engage, and make a decision. I've seen where that really works well, you do a lot of the grunt work offline, or asynchronously. Then you come together for short meeting to say, "Yay, we did it. Awesome meeting, let's go!"
Michael Franz: That's a great example. And also the inverse works as well, which I just did. I did a team charter with a new team that's forming for continuous improvement, right? We did exactly what you described in reverse. We came together, and we did the bro brainstorming, because you may think if you're thinking about asynchronous, "Oh, what happens to collaboration? Aren't we supposed to collaborate?" Well, yeah, of course. So we came together, and collaborated, did the brainstorming. Then when it came time to do the TDM, right, to take all of the voting, and the brainstorming topics, and craft them into a charter, into a working agreement, we did that asynchronously. And then even and suggested, "Hey, do we need to come together again for a quick 10 minutes or 30 minutes to ratify this?" And the answer was, "No, we can do it right here asynchronously." And everyone was comfortable. So you can do it either way. You can have your collaboration up front, if that's the appropriate, or you can have your collaboration at the end, depending on what kind of work, or problem you're trying to solve.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Yeah, I love it. Yeah. This is meant to be an agile short, so we'll probably cut it short here in a minute. So just in conclusion, I recommend, highly recommend that all of you try this out, this technique. Think about the rules, the main rules of any meeting. You need a purpose, you need an outcome, you need a really strong and crisp agenda. And you need to do some digging, in identify who needs to be in the meeting, and give them an out if they don't have anything to contribute. If they do accept your meeting, synchronous or not, then it's about reviewing that purpose, the agenda, the outcome, and the reason to be there, and make sure that you are being very transparent about what the work is that this group of people is going to do.
There's no difference between synchronous and asynchronous in that point. The rules for asynchronous though, where it starts to shift a little bit, is ensuring, or requiring a response from your participants within a short window of time hours to maybe at most a day, right? Have some form of keeping track of decisions and conversation; Slack, whatever your tool; Teams, whatever tool you're using, and share the notes with the group. I can't think of anything else. I think that's pretty much it. Did I forget anything, Mike?
Michael Franz: No, I think you nailed it. I'll say this about all forms of communication, always remember to be careful with context that you're communicating, because it can taken the wrong way, we want to make sure that we have an open mind to that, and that we understand that our writing should be emotionalist, if we can.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Yeah. And if you're comfortable being in front of a camera, then I would say the visual is worth much more than the words, because like you said, the words can be misconstrued. I would just record a short video, two minute video and say, "Hey, Mike, I was working on such and such yesterday. I noticed that blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." Whatever it is, right? The message you're trying to convey is much easier to understand when you leave a video message, right? So try it, it doesn't hurt to try. Any parting thoughts from you, Michael?
Michael Franz: No, I think you nailed it. Test and learn. And in this world, especially now with this full time remote world that we're in, in the technology industry, we need to find new ways. We need to find new ways to communicate, and to maximize our time with one another, and how we're communicating. Thanks for having me.
Kumar Dattatrey...: Of course, yeah. Hope to see you again in the near future. All right. So there's our agile short. You can't get away from meetings, you can't get rid of them altogether, but I bet you with asynchronous meetings, you can cut your meetings by at least half, and make up a lot of time that you're spending in these meetings. So with that, thank you very much for watching, and we'll see you again in our next episode. Bye-bye.