How to do Meetings

An action item of the VSHNday 2019 was to improve the efficiency of meetings through some easy to follow rules.

To put it in perspective:

American companies hold an estimated 11 million (subjective) meetings per day. It’s predicted that the unproductive portion of these cost the country a whopping $37 billion yearly.

Attend a meeting

Prepare

  • Accept the calendar invite as early as possible.

  • Remind the inviting person of these meeting rules, should you feel that they weren’t prepared well enough.

  • Make sure you know the location and how to get there, or check that you’re able to join remotely if you plan to do so.

    • Don’t attend meetings remotely from a bad location (for example a train) or with bad equipment (others will have a bad experience too, not only you).

    • If no option to attend remotely was announced in the calendar invite, request the organizer for alternative ways to join.

Rules when attending

  • Be on time, 5 minutes early is polite. Otherwise the meeting will start without you.

  • Consider bringing your business cards when you’re meeting customers or partners for the first time.

  • Don’t bring stuff you don’t need during a meeting (lunch or smelling food, paperwork, laptop, etc.), leave your smartphone in your pocket, and turn it into silent mode.

  • Don’t use any electronic devices, except if you’re presenting, are the note-taker, or you’ve to look up stuff that really contributes to the meeting goals.

    • Excuse yourself and leave the room, should you really feel the need to check your smartphone.

  • Pay attention and contribute.

    • Listen carefully and with an open mind, let others speak out and think before speaking.

    • Stay on the topic - gently push others back if they go off-track.

  • If someone is speaking too much, cut them off nicely.

  • If you figure out you can’t contribute anything during the meeting, kindly request permission to leave to the facilitator or other attendees.

  • Attack the problem, not the person.

General

  • Regularly assess if recurring meetings in your calendar are needed at all, and if so, if the format, length, and attendees are contributing to their effectiveness. Are they not? Change!

  • Take care of each other → moving forward.

  • Even as an attendee, make yourself familiar with what it means to be a facilitator. Observe how they drive the meeting and help (not judge) in a friendly way if they forget something.

    • Pay close attention that a meeting is never ended without action points and owners defined.

If the participants leave the meeting, and no one is accountable for taking action on the decisions that were made, then the meeting will have been a waste of everyone’s time. This is crucial.

Schedule and facilitate a meeting

Scheduling a meeting doesn’t necessarily mean that you also are the facilitator, but at least for internal meetings it usually makes sense.

Initiate

  • Do we really need a meeting? Could it instead be discussed over a coffee, a "1 on 1" call, or on an RFC-like wiki page?

  • Who do I need for the meeting? Think well about who really needs to attend the meeting (contributors & decision makers, no spectators).

    • Keep in mind declining an invitation doesn’t feel nice (to both parties). Asking first (at best with the agenda) helps the organizer to find the right people.

  • How long should the meeting be?

    • A meeting of 30 minutes can (and most of the times will) be as productive as a 1 hour meeting.

    • Meetings longer than 1 hour should be a very rare occasion as they need much more planning to be efficient. It’s usually better to split the agenda into multiple meetings instead.

  • Should the meeting be moderated so everyone has the chance to speak and contribute?

Schedule

  • Create a "Meeting Notes" document in the wiki, including:

    • Name of the facilitator.

    • The agenda and discussion items

    • The list of attendees (defining the facilitator).

    • The link to the JIRA Issue (or Chore) where attendees can log their time.

  • Send a calendar invite to all attendees.

    • Book a meeting room (by inviting the meeting room resource calendar).

    • If it’s possible to join remotely, prepare the link to join remotely (Zoom, JITSI or similar).

In particular for meetings with customers, you might want to book overtime (e.g 15–30 minutes) by creating a second calendar invite for the meeting room resource only.
Try to set the meeting not in the middle of the morning nor of the afternoon, as this creates unnecessary work gaps. It’s much better to set the meeting right before or after lunch as this gives most of the morning or afternoon for a long strike of work time outside the meeting.

Prepare

  • Learn how to be a good facilitator and moderator.

At the end of this document there are some links with information that can help you become a better moderator.

A day or at least an hour before:

  • Update the agenda, if necessary.

  • Make sure the room you reserved is available, check that the location is still correct in the invite and that all attendees are informed.

  • Check the needed equipment (whiteboard, flip-chart, projector, video conferencing, etc.).

Meet

  • As the facilitator, arrive 5 minutes early.

This works better if a previous meeting in the same room finishes 5 minutes earlier than the room was booked…​!
  • Start on time, don’t wait for stragglers (arriving late is impolite to those who were on time).

  • Assign a note-taker; if no volunteers are willing to help, do it yourself.

  • Be a good facilitator (this includes all the rules of being a good attendee, as described above).

  • 10 minutes before the scheduled end, try to stop running discussions in a friendly way, so you have time to:

    • Define action points including the owner of each action point (this must go into the meeting notes directly).

    • Decide whether open discussion items should go into a next meeting.

    • Summarize what needs to be done and who is going to do it (defined action points).

  • End on time, even if there are still unaddressed topics, opinions or questions.

    • Because you booked the room and are using time of each attendee you would mess with the time planning of others…​

Wrap up

In the last minutes of the meeting, or right after the meeting:

  • Check that the meeting notes are saved, check and fix typos, etc.

  • Add personal notes or brain dumps to the comments or notes (but don’t change action points or documented decisions after the meeting!).

  • If useful, send the link to meeting notes (or for external customers a PDF) to all attendees.

  • Does the outcome have value for the whole company, consider adding it to the next team meeting notes.