Haupz Blog

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Meetings Aren't Bugs

2023-03-19 — Michael Haupt

At Shopify, the year began with a clear declaration on meetings: “meetings are bugs”. (Here’s a pointer.)

I say that’s nonsense, and retort with a hearty “oversimplifications are bugs”.

In all seriousness, corporate liking for catchy phrases bear the risk of painting a picture of reality that has nothing to do with what’s healthy and good. So, to put it all in context, here goes.

Granted, there are too many bad meetings. Those should be taken care of, either by getting them right, or by cancelling them. Those meetings have (not: are) bugs. This is a truism, no reason to make a big fuss about it.

The move at Shopify consists of several components. First, cancelling, for the time being, all meetings with more than two participants. It’s good that the value of 1:1s appears to be acknowledged. But imagine a team that uses a flurry of 1:1s, or some other contraption, instead of a daily standup to synchronise. The communication overhead would be maddening. Also, leadership meetings at the team level should typically involve engineering, product, and design leads - that makes three. Leave one out, risk the respective function to lose touch, with consequences for the product (and customer). And how exactly is the Shopify CEO going to run his staff meeting and ensure alignment in his leadership team? This move is so obviously nonsensical that I will boldly bet those three-plus person meetings will sneak back into the calendars in a short time frame. (Does anybody know anyone at Shopify whom I could ask?)

Second, no-meeting Wednesdays; and third, placing all meetings with more than 50 participants (shouldn’t those be cancelled, actually?) in a 6-hour window on a specific day. These moves make sense, because they help ensuring uninterrupted focus. That’s a thing everybody benefits from - engineers and managers alike.

Let’s be serious: some of the work we do at companies happens in groups of people. That’s called a meeting. If meetings get the right attention, they’re good tools to get things done. Eliding all nuance from the matter with a punch line like “meetings are bugs” is nothing but putting up a show. Whom are they trying to impress?

Tags: work