Meetings & Mystics: Some RPG-inspired ideas for Meetings

What if meetings had a ‘hit points bar’, that showed how healthy they are?

Yesterday, S & I were talking about unhealthy & pointless meetings, and S had the following idea:

What if, every time that someone didn’t show up for a meeting[1], that meeting would ‘lose hit points’?

Each meeting has a number of hitpoints, its initial value related to:
– The length of the meeting[2]
– The number of participants
– The ‘importance’ of the meeting organizer or participants[3]

Those hit points change when:
– Each time someone forwards, ‘accepts’, or attends a meeting, the meeting is healed and soothed
– Whenever someone ‘declines’ a meeting, or perhaps worse, no-shows, the meeting is attacked and takes damage
– Whenever someone participates in a meeting, the meeting is bolstered[4]

When hit points decrease below various thresholds:
– The time allocated to the meeting decreases
– The number of people able to attend decreases[5]
– The meeting timeslot moves to a less desirable time[6]
– The meeting becomes less frequent[7]

Note that if any of the above go to zero, the meeting is cancelled

More outlandish ideas
– Meetings can fall asleep (meeting doesn’t happen this week)
– Meetings can be poisoned (meeting loses ‘hit points’ over time)
– Meetings can catch diseases (meeting is at half-length or half bandwidth until ‘healed’), etc…
– People could be given tools or ‘potions’ to heal or harm[8] meetings
– Meetings could be automated and given tools to sort it out amongst themselves, a la ‘Doom as a tool for System Administration’.[9] This logically would lead to:
– Meetings can have ‘classes’ such as ‘tank’ (absorbs damage meant for associated meetings) or ‘healer’ (actively heal associated meetings) or ‘DPS’ (strike back at competing meetings[10]

Some possible wrinkles:
– Some meetings might only ever have a small number attending out of those invited (such as a large Scrum of Scrums), but might be very useful for those who attend, and not a significant distraction for those who do not. We want to retain that usefulness while removing or reducing meetings that don’t have that usefulness…a ‘meeting budget’ [11] might be a way around that
– How does this work with 1:1s? They are generally acknowledged to be vitally important, but how do they fit in? Can one make a personal sacrifice to move ‘hitpoints’ from a 1:1 to a larger meeting when it’s really important?

Closing thoughts, some choice quotes by S:
—S: “Each meeting has a ‘power level’, which determines how many of its attendees it can hold on to….if it loses power, they can peel away & escape?”
—S: “It just occurred to me that the meeting is a monster, not a friend….why is the manager trying to heal the monster?”

[1] (if they weren’t on PTO). Also, when I say ‘meeting’ here, I generally mean ‘meeting series’, as the measurement of the health of a meeting while it is in progress, while very interesting, is a separate topic and out of scope

[2] Longer or larger meetings are not necessarily better, but they might take more effort to completely eliminate, having built up some inertia over time. One could get around this by assigning more ‘hit points’ to the first half hour of a meeting, with progressively fewer per unit of time as it gets longer. Similarly, with the number of attendees; A meeting with 1,000 people might be 500 times more costly than a 1:1, but is it 500 times more important?

[3] The importance of the meeting participants can go either way. If the people who want the meeting are ‘important’, that could be an argument for keeping the meeting. If they show up and don’t participate[4], that could be a clear signal that they should be removed or the meeting is not that important.

[4] Here, ‘participate’ is tricky….If you have a regular meeting where people of ‘importance’ get very useful information by listening, how do you measure that? Scientific talks or status updates between departments might be good examples of this. Also, ‘vigorous participation’ can be difficult to measure, and as ‘engagement’ metrics show, difficult to measure without encouraging loud arguments….One could also use whether video is turned on or not as a sign of engagement, but different organizations may have different cultural norms around this, and there may also be equity issues with this.

This could also lead to meetings being squeezed; When the ‘energy’/’usefulness’ of a meeting (perhaps measured by when people leave or enter) is consistently high all the way through, there is no change….when this decreases for marked sections of the meeting, the meeting ‘health’ decreases until the length of the meeting makes it so that the meeting has a consistently high energy all the way through

[5] IRL, this could be done by reassigning meeting rooms, virtually by restricting the number of simultaneous attendees.
—S: “Each meeting has a ‘power level’, which determines how many of its attendees it can hold on to….if it loses power, they can peel away & escape?”

[6] cf. Star Trek TOS Season 3. Note that this can be complicated by time zone issues

[7] E.g. from every day to 3 times a week, from once a week to once a month. This is already done in an ad hoc way for many types of meetings, for example when a team decides to go from daily to 3/week ‘standups’.

[8] Being able to harm other meetings feels like a very bad idea, but it might lead to fun stories 10 years later

[9] This is where a programmer famously modified the Doom sourcecode to create a world where all the processes on a Linux system would exist as monsters, fighting with the SysAdmin (and each other) through the Doom GUICached link (Sadly the UNM CS server seems to be down right now.) Original Link

[10] If you assign classes and automate meetings ‘interacting’ with each other, you might be able to clear your calendar (or everyone else’s calendar) very quickly….Also, we went back and forth about what each ‘class’ each type of meeting might be, for example, depending on the importance of the meeting, or how reliably it is important (regularly somewhat important like a status meeting, or rarely very important like a ‘these are the code changes going out around the organization’ meeting)

[11] A ‘meeting budget’ might make more explicit the opportunity/social capital cost people incur when arranging meetings (and help alleviate the issue of junior folks not wanting to ‘waste the time’ of senior folks to bring up issues early).

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