Updated: Sep 5, 2020
We stopped meeting on Mondays and here’s what we learned...
It all started in our weekly retro(spective) with the team and for the Nth week in a row the topic of ‘too many meetings’ was written with +1’s from just about everyone in the group. Since going 100% remote, we were replacing a simple turn-to conversation with blocked off hours on the calendar...
Before we knew it, it was Friday and the haunting - “what did I actually accomplish this week?”- feeling, set in.
Just short of burning out on another conversation around meeting overload, our CEO proclaimed “maybe we just choose a day and not hold any meetings”. Our gut reaction was “yes”, so we decided to test it out for three weeks. Theoretically, this is awesome. Meetingless Mondays meant uninterrupted workflow for an entire day - it was almost too good to be true.
At Sesh, we pride ourselves on our “do what works” approach that resonates across both our process and culture. Yes, we are Agile and to us that means constant experimentation with our process. If it works, we keep doing it. If it doesn’t work, we do something else. It’s just that simple.
So we all leaned into the experiment with anticipation of improving our weekly productivity.
Sacrificing Monday standup
After we ended retro, it hit me that meetingless Mondays also meant a day without standup's; no standup with the tech team and no standup with the operations team.
Since the dawn of agile, standup is one of the most important gatherings in an agile culture. Standup creates transparency and intrinsically grows trust amongst the team; an imperative practice in collaborative work especially with remote teams. I look forward to having that opportunity to be with our team for 15 minutes each day to share updates on our work and socialize any issues or blockers. So a day without standup's is a day we don’t hear what the team is working on, if they are missing information, if they need help or are blocked by anything. Standup is an important ritual I depend on to feel connected to the team. As long as I have been working in product and as a facilitator - we’ve always had standup's… ALWAYS.
I had to embrace my discomfort in breaking a cardinal rule of everything I knew about Agile teams. So my concern had merit... What was meetingless (and also standup-less) Mondays going to be like? How could this affect our communication?
Meetingless Mondays test lasted four weeks, here is what we learned…
As this was an experiment, it was important to measure the results. For tech, I was able to look at our team velocity as quantitative data. For qualitative data, I distributed a survey and pulled feedback from our retros to measure the team’s experience with meetingless Mondays. Here are our key learnings…
1. Everyone felt more productive - well, almost everyone...
Our founders still held their founder standup's on Mondays and did so in long form. Even though their Mondays were not as meetingless as the rest of the team - they were immensely productive. They used the time to discuss important founder topics like weekly goals and greater company/tech vision.
And for the rest of us? We felt productive af. A day without meetings provided “uninterrupted time allocated to execution” of work. Calendars full of meetings often break up the day, creating a lot of context switching which is mentally exhausting; context switching truly slows down productivity and time in meetings blocks us from completing tasks.
Just the feeling of productivity does wonders for our psychological well being. During the week little tasks can pile up after being pushed off and de-prioritized time and time again. Eventually, those tasks haunt you like a ghost. I often felt shame and guilt for not getting even the simplest of things done.
Having one unobstructed day to chip away at that pile can minimize the subconscious stress of an ever growing task list. And there is a psychological win that comes with completing any task, even if the task is small. The feeling of accomplishment does wonders for our morale and self esteem. Haven’t you ever felt the thrill of checking off a box on your list? It’s exhilarating! No? Just me? That’s okay, moving on...
2. Our velocity didn’t suffer - in fact it improved
Over the course of the four week test, our engineering team’s running velocity increased by four points. For those unfamiliar with this term, “velocity” is how we measure the output for engineering teams. Each user story is estimated and provided a point value that equates to a blend of the time and complexity for the defined work. When features are completed in an iteration cycle (ours last one week), those points sum up to a total velocity. Running velocity is the three week rolling average of total velocity. To see our running velocity improve by four points is no laughing matter - it's a great result!
Our operations team also experienced a higher velocity, though I don’t have any quantitative data to show for this point (as the operations tasks are not pointed). Having said that, all members of our operations felt they were getting more done with one team member saying they “got to get a lot of tasks completed before the week even started.” The team moral and feelings of accomplishment overflowed in our discussions at retro because “meetingless Mondays” was the champion of the happy column on our retro board every Friday.
3. Our perception of Mondays changed - for the better
A surprising find from the feedback I gathered around meetingless Mondays was the change in how most of the team generally felt about Mondays. I’m sure you see the onslaught of memes that litter your social media feeds Sunday evenings about the dreaded Monday return to work. The “pressure to be on” and to “remember where you left off on Friday” can feel daunting regardless of what happened during your weekend. I often found myself struggling to remember what I did Friday during standup. The team reported feeling “less stressed about Monday… [as] it was nice to start the week off at a comfortable pace”. When Monday feels less like a “Monday” it can do wonders for morale and productivity - given the work week began with a highly productive day!
Meetingless Mondays is here to stay
After the test concluded, “too many meetings” ceased to appear on our retro boards. Instead it was replaced with positive comments about the impact of meetingless Mondays, so as you may have anticipated, we decided to incorporate it into our process.
Our team is unique in that we are lean, mean, productive machines. Other companies might have a harder time implementing a “meetingless anything” because of various risks and operational inhibitors. Let’s explore a few to inspire you to consider implementing this with your teams.
Trust and communication go a long way
An obvious risk of a meetingless Monday is that some people are not going to work at all. For that very reason, team trust is non-negotiable. When we kicked off our test, it was explicitly communicated that more was expected from the team in terms of output. If you struggle to trust your team to work, meetingless days will be tough to implement. If a whole day feels too risky and you want to first test the waters, then I suggest testing a meetingless morning or afternoon each week, for a set number of weeks.
There were also exceptions to scheduling meetings on Monday. For example, if an external partner needed to meet, if we were onboarding a new team member or if we needed to interview a potential new hire - we would allow those meetings to take place on Monday. However, if we had an option to not have the meeting on a Monday, then we would take the option to meet on a different day in honor of everyone having a day of focus.
Another exception is when new members join the team. We recently had new members join our tech team and we reinstated standup's on Monday till onboarding is complete.
And I want to be clear on this other misconception… meetingless Mondays in no way means zero communication. Our slack is still bustling with chatter and initiating huddles to group problem-solve and discuss. It's very important to keep communicating and huddling - just don’t schedule a meeting.
With communication, trust and output expectations in place, you should be able to try this with your teams. Give it a try - even if you shared with me the same nervousness. You might be surprised at the results.
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