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7 February, 2012 / Karl Maier

How to run Super-Effective Meetings

I have randomly been in some meetings that were far more effective than I expected.  These meetings have been rare and I never could put my finger on why

The Culture Game

The Culture Game

those meetings were better than other meetings.  The following process (and much more) is in the book The Culture Game.  Check it out!

First, start your next meeting by designating three roles. One is “Facilitator.” (In real Scrum, this role should be the “Scrum Master,” but doing so requires training outside the scope of this blog post.) The second is the “Product Owner,” the person who defines what qualifies as the “deliverable.” Scrum has very few rules, but one is that the Facilitator (Scrum Master) cannot also be the Product Owner. The third role is the team, and that’s everyone else.

Second, start your next meeting with the Facilitator helping the group establish working agreements. Do this by asking people how they respond when others bury their nose in their laptops or multitask with their smartphones. Don’t be surprised if the chief offenders here (I’m holding my hand up again) may say that they find it annoying. Then, as a temporary working agreement, ask what the group is willing to commit to. Most will say “no cell phones,” “no computers,” “no phone calls,” etc. The Facilitator should post these on the wall or whiteboard, where they are visible to everyone. Note that they will say this — it requires no confrontation on the part of the Facilitator.

Also, some people during this process may disclose that they have some reason to break the rules, and these exceptions go up on the list. In our meetings, I mentioned two people by name whose calls I would take. I then pushed my cell phone to the center of the conference table so everyone else could verify that I would take a call only from those people — and not from my bookie.

Third, set a schedule. For an extended meeting, like one going all morning, establish clear breaks. We settled on 50-minute work cycles with 10-minute breaks. During the breaks, people can email, text, use the restroom, refill their coffee cup, or anything else — including going outside for some fresh air. The blocks of work are called “iterations.” The psychological impact of knowing that a break is just a few minutes away transforms the iterations from possibly pointless meetings into goal-directed bursts of activity. People know that even a wandering, off-purpose iteration will end. You’ll find that everyone will be far more able to stay engaged and avoid the beeps and vibrations from their electronic friends.

Fourth, start each iteration with a big countdown clock, visible to everyone — and start it. As it begins to click down, ask the group to define what constitutes “done” for that iteration. Even if the group spends 15 of its 50 minutes on this question, that’s a great investment. In one of our meetings, we defined “done” as determining all of our company priorities, assigning them to a group with a lead person, and getting all of this set up on project boards. We had struggled to do exactly that for months, and we did it in a single 50-minute iteration, which included the time to define “done.” The team members may ask the Product Owner questions of clarification or scope.

Fifth, do the work to get to “done.” Anyone is free to make suggestions or point out that “15:33 is left on the clock.” Some groups will start by outlining a set of steps to get to done, and others will jump in. The Facilitator may interrupt and ask if the group knows how it will get to done, but these interruptions should be minimal. This system puts everyone in a flat meeting, without rank. I’ve implemented this simple form of Scrum in meetings when the CEO came in to check on our progress. In one case, he began to critique the meeting while also playing with his iPhone. In one of the best moments of my professional life, a subordinate pointed out that the CEO was welcome to join, but only as a team member (technically, he was “de-authorized from speaking as the CEO”). And, she added, our rules require no gadgets, so the boss had to please either put down the phone or exit the meeting. He complied and sat down, as a participating team member. He later said that the meeting was the most productive he had ever attended.

Sixth, end the iteration when the clock times out. Alternatively, take a break when the Facilitator calls an end to the session. If you have time before the clock hits zero, ask: “Did we get to done?”

Seventh, after the break, start with a five-minute “retro” on what worked and didn’t work in the last meeting. Based on this brief reflection, the Facilitator may ask if the group wants to amend the ground rules, such as “no sidebar conversations.” Then start the process again. Begin with a check in on rules and assignment of roles (these likely won’t change), and move through establishing “done,” doing the work, ending the process, and taking a break.

Reportedly, meetings that might have been dominated by “I’m great” (and you’re not)” tones flip into fully functioning, high-performance tribes.  That would be a fun way to have meetings.

Reference: article


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