The Mental Load of One Meeting

I facilitated a meeting today. It was scheduled for 45 minutes on my agenda, for me and some other tech and team leads in my unit. We covered what we needed to move forward planning an epic with a set of relatively straightforward stories, both in execution and work distribution among the teams.

For some of the people attending today, they showed up without preparing, and didn't remember what the topic was. I filled them in. Because this is what the meeting preparation looked like from my side:

  1. I was in a planning meeting two weeks ago with a variety of people from the unit. I picked up the implication that that follow-up (combination solo thinking/document review followed by meeting) was needed soon with a few tech and team leads. I checked the out of office schedule (that I created and keep updated as people mention when they'll be out) and noticed that two weeks was an achievable time span for "soon". I mentioned this while we were still in that planning meeting.

  2. Within the next 48 hours, two people from the planning meeting asked when I'd scheduled the follow-up. I explained that I was giving the other leads a chance to schedule it first.

  3. When I scheduled the follow-up, I made the title of the Outlook invitation "review the comments you've already added to the document" so the purpose and expectations were both clear and impossible to miss. I added the document to review to the body of the invitation. I let the two inquiring minds know that this occurred. I found a couple of 45-minute blocks when all four people present at the planning meeting, plus the one person that had been forgotten, were available simultaneously. I chose the one on Tuesday, giving the person who was out for a week Monday to catch up.

  4. I added a Slackbot reminder for Monday afternoon for the person who's out the previous week. They're on my team and typically have trouble saying no when someone tries to pull their focus. We've found that Slackbots help.

  5. The meeting time arrives. The Slackbot reminder person and I have reviewed the document. The others haven't. I check in and ask whether we should hold this meeting after they're available to do so. Silence. I move on, facilitating the discussion, taking notes, and keeping us on track.

I am not the only person capable of scheduling a meeting. I am not the person best equipped to review this document. It is not my responsibility to come up with systems for my peers to remember to do their work. I can let this fail, just not follow-up, and I do with smaller, safer-to-fail experiments. But it doesn't solve the problem.

I can't do a better job of explaining the burden of carrying the mental load than Emma does in her comic. But to summarize: a lot of work is the work of noticing what work needs doing. It's the difference between "Let me know if you need help" and finding a way to actually help. It's the difference between having 45 minutes blocked on your calendar, and everything else that had to happen to make it successful.

What I wonder now is: how much is this skill of carrying the mental load noticed? How much is it valued? How do we interview for this skill? How do I train my fellow team members to have it? How do I teach the ownership of a team and a project? How do I get people to ask each other about the next step in picking up the work instead of coming to me to be the dispatcher? How do I make myself, instead of irreplacable, completely replaceable?