Meetings That Work for Both Managers and Makers

When it comes to designing and leading meetings that produce resultswhen you meet matters just as much as how you meet. This is particularly true in organizations where employees are both, what Paul Graham calls, “makers” and “managers.” Makers, also known as individual contributors, are the software developers, engineers, architects, writers, and researchers who produce knowledge. Managers, on the other hand, are the leaders who integrate across disciplines and serve as the interface between customer needs and the organization’s strategy. Because of these distinct roles, the two groups have very different needs in terms of their daily rhythm and calendars.

Namely, makers need large blocks of uninterrupted time in order to solve complex problems and imagine new solutions. For them, having a meeting at 9 AM and another at 1 PM could destroy the productivity of the entire day. Managers operate at the center of a complex web of customers, external partners, and internal stakeholders. In order to engage with the largest number of people, they often break their days into 30- or 60-minute meeting increments.

In an analysis my company commissioned from Microsoft Workplace Analytics, data collected from calendar and email information across a broad range of organizations showed that makers have an average of 15.5 hours of focus time per week, whereas managers have an average of 10.7 hours. Whereas makers spend 9 hours each week in meetings, managers average twice that with 18 hours. There’s a similar proportion in the number of emails received. Makers get an average of 51 and managers get more than twice that many: 110.

Given these differences, the ideal schedules for each group often conflict. So how can these two groups support each other in maximizing the value of one another’s time?

Makers need to be relentlessly protective of uninterrupted work time to ensure that they can dive deep into a problem without getting interrupted. To do so, they have to counter FOMO (fear of missing out on an interesting conversation or meeting) and prioritize their own work over dropping into meetings just because they’re interesting. Makers should do the following:

  • Be extremely disciplined about using your time to deliver on essential priorities. Stay as far away from distractions as possible. Block working time on your calendar as an appointment. If your calendar is visible to others, title the appointment something like, “MAKE TIME: Deliverable name” so that your colleagues know what you are prioritizing.
  • Align your “make time” with your natural biorhythm. For night owls, that might mean making an appointment from 8 PM to 2 AM several times a week and agreeing with your manager to come in late the following days. In this email to his development team, Jeremiah Dillon, Google’s head of product marketing for Apps at Work, even suggested a specific strategy for each day based on how energy ebbs and flows over the course of a week.
  • Many makers are plagued by interruptions in the form of quick questions or IM pings. We advise turning off wi-fi, setting IM status to “Unavailable”, and/or posting a sign on your office door to the tune of “Solving big problems. Please do not disturb.”

Managers must ensure that customer feedback is incorporated into the production timeline and that their teams are addressing key issues in a timely fashion. To meet their needs without disrupting the maker schedule, managers should:

  • Establish a communication protocol with the key makers on your team to provide regular updates on the status of urgent issues (daily) and longer-term projects (weekly).
  • Respect the boundaries makers put around their time and have a high bar for what merits an interruption.
  • Design and lead high quality meetings that accomplish the necessary objectives and are a good investment of everyone’s time.
  • Because fragmented calendars are extremely disruptive for makers, schedule meetings in clusters, either first thing in the morning, around lunchtime, or at the end of the day. It’s also helpful to hold any recurring team meetings only on specific days of the week.
  • When possible, provide updates and share information through concise and well-crafted emails so that it’s easy for makers to access important information on their own timeline.

Organizations need both makers and managers, and in fact, more and more leaders are operating as a hybrid, dedicating at least a portion of their week to creating rather than just managing. Wise leaders don’t let the need for information sharing and oversight block the productivity of their most critical resources. Instead they look for ways to support them.

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