Today, during a Scrum introduction workshop I came to a sudden realization that I didn’t want to use the word “meeting” when talking about Scrum. Meetings have such a bad rap in our industry, and rightly so. I recall hours-long, painful meetings where nothing moved forward, the louder people postured and argued, talked in circles and dug themselves in to ever-deepening trenches, while the quieter ones, stared at the table, or cowered from the conflict, wishing they could be back in their cubicle doing useful work.
Admittedly, Scrum has reduced this meeting overhead to a few key, timeboxed meetings but the legacy of “meeting culture” still hangs over us, heavily. “Scrum has too many meetings” is a common complaint… and then we discover daily meetings drag on for 40 minutes, retrospectives are unproductive, lack meaning or devolve into complaint sessions and planning meetings are controlled and directive, leaving team members sullen and brow- beaten.
It occurred to me in that moment that telling the workshop participants “these Scrum meetings are essential” was likely to deflate them rather than excite them about this new way of working. Meeting culture has penetrated Scrum, as it must. Something so heavy and oppressive, so entrenched in our way of being will crush anything that tries to challenge its power. The Scrum Alliance introduced the term “ceremony” to replace meeting, but that’s almost as bad, and to some people even worse, carrying with it images of cults and cloaked figures preforming strange rituals. And using that term in the same sentence with “ScrumMaster”… forget it!
So I used the term conversation. Scrum has people, I said, and it has conversations. There are conversations to plan, conversations to align, and conversations to reflect. We have these conversations at the appropriate times, and for the appropriate durations in order to inform our work. If we don’t have these conversations we won’t know what we are doing (planning), we won’t know where we are going (alignment), and we’ll keep repeating the same mistakes (reflection). Expressed this way I felt a lifting of interest, a lightening of the heart. I had essentially told this group of people “you never have to be in a meaningless meeting again”. And I believe that.
Let’s stop talking about meetings, and let’s stop having meetings. Nothing good ever came out of a business meeting. People in collaborative dialog though, now that’s exciting — that’s meaningful.