Bringing Sanity to Meetings and Con Calls – You Can Do It!

A sequel to this post has finally been posted. See it on Medium here, and subscribe to my feed there for more early-look content. It will be posted on rsts11 by the end of the month.

And a third part was posted first on Linkedin here.

I’m sure all of my readers love meetings. If you’re like me, you wake up looking forward to people who forget they’re on mute, people who forget to go on mute before yelling at pets/neighbors/unpleasant BMs, and of course what I call Cisco Standard Time (“We’ll get started about 5 minutes late because everyone before us did.”).

But for those of you who want to make a difference, I thought I’d share some ideas to help you make the most of your meeting time, whether you’re running a meeting, participating in one, or thinking you’d rather get a few more root canals and maybe a vertebra replacement instead of going to another conference call.

Caveat: I work remotely (not to be confused with remotely working), so a lot of my recent thoughts on this topic are focused around Webex or other conference call methods. I hope they’ll help you with face-to-face meetings as well, but don’t count on hitting mute in a conference room to save you from your woes.

I’ll start with an anecdote. I worked for a search engine company about 13 years ago, and one of the CEOs during my time there made an interesting observation. He walked around our San Francisco office and saw meeting rooms full most of the time. Many/most of the people in the meeting rooms were disengaged, and people couldn’t justify the meetings to him in many cases. So a mandate went out, a decree from on high, telling people to cut back on meetings and trim down the attendees. It was one of the wisest admonitions from a CEO that I’ve ever been in the room to hear first-hand. And it seemed to work. (The company failed later for other reasons, but nobody who left the company thought “if we’d only had a few more meetings each day, we would’ve made it.”)
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The Awesome Power of a Fully Operational Decision-Making Mongoose; or, RASCI as a transitional responsibility model

250px-RASCI[1]I’ll apologize in advance to George Clinton.Video below.

As I prepare to transition out of my current job, my priorities change and I have to be a bit more cautious about what I get involved in, so as to not leave anyone hanging when I do hand over my badge in just over two weeks.

I’m reminded of the decision-making scheme we were taught at eBay–RASCI. That’s

  • Responsible (Person who does the work),
  • Accountable (the person in charge, also Approver of the work R does),
  • Supporting (someone who helps out with the process but is not the main responsible party–sometimes merged into Responsible for RACI),
  • Consulted (subject matter experts who provide advice), and
  • Informed (people who get status updates).

This model was obviously intended to set out expectations and points of responsibility within a project, defining responsibility and telling people who would be on either end of a communications channel as well as who is actually hands-on-keyboards (figuratively or literally) to do the actual work. However, it has another useful role.

At the point where someone gives notice and their countdown begins, they would move into the “C” category. They no longer get action items, presumably no on-call, and the ability to focus on passing along knowledge as needed to the people who would pick up their areas of responsibility.

I’m in the C category now at Disney, There’s a lot to be done, but I can’t take long-term ownership of it anymore. What I can do is work with the folks who are taking over for me, make sure they have the tools and contacts to do their best in my absence.

But what’s this with the mongoose?

Well, that’s controversial. RASCI is the name eBay gave to the mascot for their process, He’s the “decision-making mongoose at eBay.” There was a stuffed version (I have one somewhere in the garage, I’m sure), and it was entertaining and a bit creepy. There was also an unofficial travel blog, with pictures of RASCI in various settings. I can’t find that anymore, but it was out there, I promise.

My fiancee wondered why anyone would need a mascot for decision-making. Fair point, but it does make the model more personally accessible for people who aren’t in project management. And how many mongooses (mongeese?) do you run into in your daily life?

So where do we go from here?

Well, I’m going to Cisco. I don’t know about you guys.

But seriously, RASCI or its variants may be worth considering if you’re having problems with identifying roles in a project, or even if you aren’t yet. You don’t have to use the mongoose, but hey, it’s there.

It’s also worth considering RASCI or the like as a means of communicating a transition of responsibility, whether someone is leaving a project, a department, or the company entirely. Who owns that piece of infrastructure the guy who just left was handling for years? Who remains in the department to provide support and receive reports?

If you have experience with RASCI/RACI, or if you have an extra RASCI doll in need of a new home, let me know in the comments.

And for those of you who might not have known the title reference, have yourself some P.Funk.

[Video link updated 2017-11-30 since the old one has disappeared since 2014.]

[2018-03-02: The card we had to remind us of the RASCI model]