I ran a session at Mobilecamp Dresden today, speaking about “improving meetings”.
Other than in my previous thoughts about good meetings, that were centered around open business meetings, possibly between partners who don’t yet collaborate or know eachother well, this session was centered around project group meetings. Some fundamental aspects that I find important to make a meeting work:
- Physical space – what is the room like? What is the seating / standing arrangement? What chairs, desks and other tools are there? What visualisation and other tools are available? What is the lighting like? What are the room acoustics like? What is the air quality like?
- Emotional state – what are people’s emotional states? Are they aware of them, are others aware? I find that a “checkin” helps: “My name is Martina and I feel…” using “Mad Sad Glad Afraid” can often help and provide great insight into what context the meeting is happening in.
- Purpose – why are we meeting? I find it useful to separate Tactical Meetings – meetings to solve current problems – from Organisational / Governance Meetings (meetings that are about how to organise the work), from Retrospective Meetings (meetings to look back on work done and learn together.)
- Formal process – it can help to to define a formal process in which to hold the meeting. This prevents unfocussed discussion (which can be frustrating for people who want to get things done) and holds participants to the purpose. It can be useful to have one person as a designated facilitator who holds participants to the process. Separate Project / Status Updates from Problem solving. When solving problems, have a clear problem owner. Solve one problem at the time, don’t mix two or more problems into the same discussion.
- Role definitions – it is often useful to have clear role definitions in projects. This increases clarity and can prevent open-ended, opinionated group discussions. Defining and assigning roles can also help with clarifying status and rank differences in groups.
Participants in the group – some working in informal working groups, some in startups, some in large organisations – noted that often it may not be possible to speak completely openly in meetings for fear of losing face or suffering other personal consequences from the group or superiors.
I find this is a fundamental problem: If problems cannot be addressed openly and clearly, it is unlikely that wise solutions will come from a meeting. Where it is not possible to openly admit needing help in a meeting, the wisdom and experience of the group will not be used to its full potential and the risk of making bad decisions rises.
To change this, it requires a conversation about the conversation.
What are you frustrations with work meetings? What would help you? What has worked for you?