Provoking thought


Decision: from tomorrow you are going to make all the meetings in your organization 100% optional. Truly optional — no (more) repercussions for people not showing up.

What’s going to happen now?

In the perfect organization, nothing happens at all. People are invited to meetings where they feel they can contribute, or where they gain sufficient valuable information to make it worth their while.

However, chances are that in most organizations, certain meetings start to be particularly poorly attended.

And probably, you already know exactly which ones those are.

What does that tell you? Those meetings do not provide sufficient value, or the wrong people are asked to attend. And a “leave/skip if you like” rule simply make this more transparent. It’s feedback.

More specifically, it’s feetback. It allows people to “vote with their feet.”

By the way, if you think the idea of making all meetings optional is crazy: it’s not a new idea at all. The ability to walk out of a meeting is even a rule at Tesla, according to an Elon Musk internal e-mail:

“Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”

Feetback has wider applications.

In most organizations I’ve been in, we tend to want to encourage bottom-up initiative: new ideas to improve the organization, not coming from the top, but from the people “close to the fire.”


However, how do we decide what initiatives to implement and which not? And once they’ve booted up, which ones to continue to invest in?

Most organizations have realized that throwing up lots of hurdles, like approval chains and having to write extensive proposals are a great will to kill any type of initiative. Instead, we tend lean to wards “approve by default.” A little bit of scrutiny is applied, but once that’s passed: it’s a go.

“How about we create monthly internal meet-up with lightning talks?”

Let’s do it.

“How about we launch an initiative where we select a conference talk every few weeks, then watch it together and talk about it?”

Sure, go for it.

“How about we organize a hackathon where everybody finally gets to fix their top annoyance with our product?”

Let’s do it.

“How about a channel on our Slack/Mattermost with memes making fun of Kubernetes?”

Sure, whatever floats your boat. Go for it.

All of these initiatives may be potentially great and impactful ideas that we may even end up pivoting the entire company towards (especially the Kubernetes meme idea), or… complete duds. We will never know unless we try.

So let’s try.

Won’t this lead to a wild growth of initiative and distractions? Won’t we get a massive amount of initiatives, resulting in nobody having any time left for any “real work”?

Not likely, if we put the “optional for all” rule in place. This enables for self correction through the sheer magic of feetback.

You will see the results within weeks. Initially people may show up, but if they don’t see the value, they will vote with their feet. Some initiatives will continue and grow and be repeated, others will slowly die out due to lack of interest.

And when that happens, it’s not a failure at all. That’s feetback in action. We tried, it didn’t work. That’s ok.

On to the next idea.