3 Reasons why techies hate being summoned to meetings run by non-technical staff

Green Ball

Techies tend not to enjoy meetings. And especially those run by non-technical staff. And more so, when they are summoned to them – “oh, we need you at that meeting”. Here are 3 explanations as to why:

#3 – Communication Gap – Lingo, jargon, idioms, whatever, is somewhat localized to the technical staff. Frequently, the non-technical person calling the meeting doesn’t understand the lingo. So, there is a communication gap. I’ve been on conference calls with peers in other countries and there were language barriers. I’ve been in meetings with people on the same team and there have been language barriers. System Administrators, Engineers & Architects have different languages than Salespeople, Project Managers, and Execs. This makes meetings sometimes painful. As people talk past each other or after lengthy dialogue meetings get longer.

#2 – Negotiation v. Conversation – Questions come in that say, “Isn’t it possible to do ?” And the answer is “Yes, but…” Unless the conditional phrase is put into terms that the audience can really grasp, the condition isn’t really heard. If the solution proceeds and negative consequences result, then the assumption is that the warnings were ignored. Meanwhile, it is stated the “expert” was in the room. So, blame ends up as a result. The, “can’t we do” question is a negotiation from the ones who need the solution, the “yes, but” answer tends to be a conversation. Since there usually is a technical solution to most problems and the question typically is interpreted as to what is possible, the answer almost always is “yes, but”. The answer should tend toward, “No, unless you have more dollars in the budget” or “No, unless you have more labor to provide me.”

#1 – Information Direction – Technical staff either have to research solutions or execute those solutions. They are information producers. “The solution will look like this … ” or “It will take this long to run…” While non-technical staff tend toward being information consumers – maybe they are decision makers (managers or executives) or maybe they are project managers needing to setup schedules. So, they need the technical staff to provide the information to the other stakeholders. While they are in these meetings waiting to supply information, they can’t be off “doing their job” of researching solutions or executing on those solutions. It is especially painful when they are in the meetings, waiting to contribute, and the question arises, “why are you so far behind?” or “when will it be done?” Reminds me of a Dilbert comic where the Pointy-Haired-Boss asks Dilbert for daily status updates as to why he is so far behind. Apparently, Scott Adams has two on the topic.

I focused this post on technical staff at non-technical meetings. When technical staff are at technical meetings, there tend not to be communication gaps nor negotiations and the information direction changes where they can also be information consumers rather than sole providers.

How do you make the meetings more effective?

#1 – Translate the information – Try to drive the information to the stakeholder’s concern, try to get a translation. Move the conversation from “if this happens, the port is down” to “if this happens, the customers can’t get data”, or “if this solution doesn’t work, I’ll need to go back to the drawing board.” to “if the solution doesn’t work, I’ll probably need another 2 months to find another way.”

#2 – Detail the requirements and/or assumptions – Instead of “can’t we do this?”, it should be rephrased to “can’t we do this, with the existing budget and existing schedule and existing staff?” (or whatever adjustments to one or all of the 3). Detail the meeting assumptions – at the meeting, I’m looking for “information to make a decision”, “information, so that all the attendees have the same base of information”, “timelines of execution”, or “proof information that is presented by ”

Jim – 10/21/13
@itbycrayon

View Jim Surlow's profile on LinkedIn (I don’t accept general LinkedIn invites – but if you say you read my blog, it will change my mind)

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One thought on “3 Reasons why techies hate being summoned to meetings run by non-technical staff

  1. This is good – really good, and should be required reading for companies of all size to present at whatever boondoggle they have that is even loosely related to on-boarding a new employee, whether the company is in the technology space or not. The time savings, oh, the time savings we could realize…

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