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.

What’s a meeting?

A meeting at VSHN is a scheduled, prepared and time-boxed gathering of people for the purpose of achieving a common goal through verbal interaction, such as sharing information, solving conflicts or reaching agreement.

One-way information sharing is better done in a written way, especially when you don’t expect direct feedback or questions. Meetings to just share information are mostly ineffective and unnecessary.
A meeting has
  • A written agenda (before the meeting)

  • Written meeting minutes that document the findings from the discussions and the next steps or action points

  • A way to join the meeting, independent of where the participants are

  • A note-taker

  • A facilitator that guides the meeting

  • Usually more than two participants in total

  • Scheduled start and end time

The following aren’t examples of meetings
  • Working collaboratively on a task or problem, usually at a computer

  • Pair-programming or shadowing a colleague

  • Workshops with the goal to produce something new (code, documentation, a proof-of-concept system installation and similar)

Just the fact that you’re in a video call doesn’t make it a meeting.

General

  • Be on time. We start meetings on time. Making others wait for you is impolite and sends the message that you don’t value their time.

    • try to be ready at the meeting location 5 minutes early

    • join the video call before the scheduled start time

This works better if a previous meeting in the same room (physical or remote meeting-id) finishes 5 minutes earlier than the time it was booked…​!
  • 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!

  • 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.

Attend a meeting

Prepare

  • Accept the calendar invite as early as possible.

  • Read the agenda. If things are unclear, clarify before the meeting.

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

  • Make sure that you know how to join the meeting remotely or how to get to the meeting location on time.

    • 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, make sure the organizer fixes this.

Rules when attending

  • Make sure all participants have your contact information and correct name (usually done by the video call tool or calendar invite). 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, when you’re not attending remotely, except if you’re presenting, are the note-taker, or you’ve to look up stuff that really contributes to the meeting goals.

Staring at your notebook screen in a face-to-face meeting is impolite. Whereas it’s natural to look at the screen when participating remotely.
  • Don’t check e-mails, your smartphone or even work on other things in a meeting. Pay attention and contribute.

In video calls one can easily tell whether a person is actively participating or working on others things.
  • 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.

  • Attack the problem, not the person.

Schedule and facilitate a meeting

Before you schedule a meeting, try to avoid meetings when there is a better way.

First, get different opinions via a written channel or do some short one-on-one calls. Then prepare a written proposal that will make it much easier to come to a decisions.

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

Initiate

  • 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.

  • Fix the video call meeting-id (for example scheduled zoom meeting or your fixed personal meeting-id)

  • Send a calendar invite to all attendees.

    • Add the video call join link in the description and if the meeting is remote-only in the location

    • Book a meeting room (by inviting the meeting room resource calendar) if you expect people to join in the office.

In particular for meetings with customers face to face, 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.

  • Check the needed tools like video conferencing, a retro-tool, wiki pages, etc. Try to avoid analog tools that don’t work well for remote attendees or increase the manual effort after the meeting.

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

  • When you’re sure that everyone will attend remotely, remove the booking of the room

Meet

  • You as the facilitator start the meeting 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 are using time of each attendee you would mess with their time planning.

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.