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Quick Meeting Tips

Published: July 06, 2018

Some meeting tips…

  • Cadenced or Triggered JIT (Just In Time). Run cadenced meetings every week, two weeks, month, quarter — OR — just-in-time meetings triggered by the team finishing something (so they don’t add to their work in progress). Avoid tackling new stuff preemptively. Most concerns can be funneled into these meetings, and you’ll benefit from a flow of prior meetings.
  • Bidirectional. Limit “fanfare” type meetings (e.g. status read-outs) where there is no value-add from the interaction, and limited bidirectional exchanges of information. There are better tools for fanning out information. Same goes for success theater. Your high performers will see through success theater meetings very quickly.
  • Tame power dynamics. Be realistic about the impact of power dynamics (e.g. VPs meeting with front-line developers). It is rare you’ll get the transparency you need, and it is easy for things to go south, and for people to get triggered. Don’t give up…but realize it takes time to make this work (and frequently some individual coaching of the VPs and front-liners).
  • Fewer Prep Meetings. Be especially leery of meetings that require meetings to prep for the meetings to prep for the meetings (you know what I’m talking about). Limit 1:1s and side-channeling on what you’ll discuss in the meeting. Focus. Have a bias towards getting different perspectives and tackling the issue together. Once the team gets in the groove for the meeting, you’ll be able to discuss more sensitive topics.
  • Limit Number of Meetings Overall. Consider limiting meeting hours per week. Good meetings are energizing, but also are cognitively draining, and can drain energy for a day. Meetings also tend to create more noise/extra work than can be reasonably accomplished. Be very aware of pull vs. push. Good meetings “pull” the most relevant topics vs. creating more cognitive overload with newly pushed “stuff”. By limiting meetings overall, you can leave energy and focus for the meetings that really matter.
  • Optional. Make the meetings optional, but also let people co-design the meeting (so they don’t bail out of desperation). In other words, let people vote with their feet, or be part of making it better. This can be a leap of faith, but it does put pressure on the team to make the meeting worthwhile.
  • **Limit Size and Time. **Keep meetings to less than eight (8) people, and to less than 1hour (50 minutes), or 80 minutes. A good 80 minute (1x80m) meeting with people “in the flow” (and coffee), can equal three fifty minute (3x50m) meetings with context switching, latecomers, etc.
  • Living Agenda. Have an agenda, and make it public and editable. Limit 1:1s and side-channeling on what you’ll discuss in the meeting. Focus. Have a bias towards getting different perspectives and tackling the issue together.
  • Good Background. Don’t waste meeting time for background info people can read in advance. Or dedicate the first 5–10 minutes of the meeting to silent, focused reading. Written word has a place, and it helps empower less vocal / more contemplative team members. This is especially important for making important decisions. It can be massively difficult to switch from going deep on context to “crisp decision making”.
  • Diverse Engagement Styles. Make the meeting accessible to introverts, extroverts, systems thinkers, process thinkers, people-people, ponderers, and idea people.
  • Choreography. Have a predetermined meeting structure/flow with time-boxes. Try to stick to it, but always work to improve the flow through inspect/adapt. Some regularity helps folks get in the flow. Think of this as semi-structured jazz improv or dance choreography…you’re going through the motions with a lot of creativity. You’ll get better with practice and tweaking.
  • Lightweight Artifacts. Use lightweight artifacts that ground the conversation (dashboards, agendas, reports, etc.). Stop using artifacts that fail to add value. Tweak those that are promising. Anything that keeps the meeting helpful, and gets attention/multiple eyes…keep.
  • Rotate Facilitation/Note-taking. Rotate facilitation and note-taking. It builds empathy and chops. The group will be more resilient. Consider some basic training on facilitation. Try to keep notes super crips and to the point. This takes practice.
  • Make Room for Action Items. Treat action items as “work” and business-as-usual. Whatever that entails, do it (including, yes, putting action items in your “ticketing” tool if that is what provides transparency). This will involve LIMITING action items. Once you’ve created a bit more work, consider stopping the meeting. There’s no sense in overwhelming everyone, and that’s easy to do in an hour meeting.
  • Explicit Asks. Be very explicit about action items/asks for individuals, with special consideration to those people not in the meeting. Either invite them, or leave someone responsible for sharing context, and getting their consent/buy-in. Don’t just lob work over a wall through a proxy.
  • Limit CIP. Limit change/experiments/action items in progress. Always close the loop on action items. Additionally, be very explicit about the desire to “scale” something that worked locally. Don’t assume a small experiment has been institutionalized.
  • Valuable? Periodically analyze the value-add of the meeting. Look at decision quality, decision quantity, agility, information exchange, signal vs. noise, and perhaps most importantly the amount of work CREATED by the meeting. Is it busy work? Does the meeting just fill space?
  • Adapt. Openly discuss what is working and not working about the meeting format, participation, artifacts, outputs, etc. Again, encourage co-design of the meeting. Discourage one person “owning” the meeting. It should provide value to everyone. Kills meetings that do not work. Or repurpose that slot.
  • Patience. A great cadenced meeting takes time and practice. Don’t give up after a mediocre first meeting.