Three Lessons from A Frustrating Meeting

Three Lessons from A Frustrating Meeting

Recently, I had a meeting where in the end everyone walked out of the room feeling frustrated. Looking back, I realized we spent 45 mins on a meeting that could have finished in 10 mins. I contributed to the frustration due to three mistakes I made. I’m writing down the lessons I learned to remind myself to not make the same mistakes again.

These lessons are:
1. Make sure the meeting goal is clear to all participants.
2. Identify areas of agreements and disagreements.
3. Understand my role in the group.

Make sure the meeting goal is clear to all participants.

It sounds obvious, but we made this mistake. In the meeting I mentioned, people in the room had different understandings about the goal of the meeting. We knew the meeting was about deciding on metrics for the project. But one group was thinking about external metrics where the other group, including me, had internal metrics in mind.

Only after the meeting, by talking to the facilitator, I realized the meeting was about external metrics, something we easily agreed on, and all the discussions around internal metrics were outside of the scope of the meeting.

Besides the goal of the meeting, it’s also important to verify if participants in the meeting are the right audience for the meeting topics. In my example, internal metrics wasn’t a concern of the group focused on external metrics. So discussions around external metrics should have been saved for a different group and a different time.

I found this article about Running Effective Meetings has relevant and useful advice.

Identify areas of agreements and disagreements.

I walked into the meeting with the wrong picture about areas of agreements and disagreements. There were things we all already agreed on, but I wasn’t aware because those consensuses were made offline outside of the group setting.

To illustrate with an example: A, B, and C had a conversation and agreed on X. B, D, and E had another conversation and also agreed on X. But when A, B, C, D, and E got together, A didn’t know everyone in the room already agreed on X.

We ended up spending time iterating on things we already aligned on.

A good way to avoid this mistake is to simply ask this question: “do we all agree about XYZ?”

Understand my role in the group.

I was confused about my role in the group and played the wrong role.

Most meetings I have nowadays have been with the team I’m leading — the team working on the project. In these meetings, I mostly play the facilitating role where I focus on guiding the discussion and making sure everyone in the room is heard. I will hold back some of my opinions and save them till later part of the meeting so I can hear what everyone thinks.

But this meeting was different. The group participating in the meeting was mostly people I reported the project to, directly or indirectly. I failed to recognize my role in the group was not to facilitate, but to provide information and opinions.

Since I was playing the wrong role, when the group was waiting for me to provide suggestions, I held back and focused on guiding other people talk. As a result, we had a hard time pushing the discussion forward.

This is a great lesson that applies to all human interactions. Identifying the role you want to and are supposed to play relation to the people you interact with collaborations more effective.

For example, in a 1-on-1 meeting with your manager, you might be the one asking for help and your manager is the one providing counseling. Or, your manager might be the one requesting information and you are the one providing it.

Another example is in a conversation with a project manager (PM), you can either be a mere information provider where the PM is the decider or you can be the proposer fighting for an idea where the PM is the idea validator.

Different roles dramatically influence the style, dynamic, and outcome of the conversation.

You should think about the role you want to play. Often, the role is not set and you have a chance to define it.

Although the meeting was frustrating, it was a valuable learning experience and I’m grateful for that! There are still much for me to learn in the area of communication and leading projects. I’m excited to see what’s up next! =]


My career plan for the year is to grow into a tech lead. I’m excited about all the learnings ahead and would love to share this journey with you in a brutally honest fashion. I will be sharing my weekly learning on the blog.

In the next few months, I will focus on growing in the following areas. You can expect to see posts related to them:

  • focusing on the big picture of the project instead of near-term implementation details;
  • balancing my efforts between leading projects and coding;
  • work-life balance for long-term productivity;
  • the human side of software development: making sure everyone riding with me enjoys the ride and feels fulfilled and inspired.

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