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Last updated on 12/9/20

Running efficient, agile meetings

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Ensure your meetings are efficient

An efficient meeting:

  • raises a question/problem/subject that is useful in accomplishing the common mission

  • includes all the stakeholders and nobody but the stakeholders (ideally 3–10 people)

  • has a clear objective and achieves it. Too many objectives spoil the objective.

  • organizes participation from everyone

  • results in an action plan accepted by everyone

  • puts in place follow-up for the decision/solution

7 phases to validate, from the preparation to the closing of your meeting:

1) Define the subject and objective of your meeting clearly, according to what type it is.

A briefing meeting can be disparate, provided it consists of a quick sequence of topics or a roundtable. Its objective is to give instructions for the day/week and for everyone to give feedback from the day/week before. It’s an operational meeting.

For example:

Type 2: Subject: “To communicate the results of a transversal technology monitoring mission and answer questions.” Objective: the team members have integrated the information and are capable of measuring the impact on their work and identify the potential for innovation offered by the new tools.

Type 3: Subject: “To announce several delegations of tasks within the team and organize the skills transfer.” Objective: “The team members understand the reasons for these delegations and accept them. The steps for the skills transfer are defined and implemented by the parties involved.”

Type 4: Subject: “Following several complaints, customer service has reported a quality problem.” Objective: “To identify the causes of the quality problem, find solutions, implement them and organize follow-up for this implementation.”

Type 5: Subject: “To simplify the use of a smartphone application for older people; Objective: “All team members contribute to the search for solutions and elect the best.”

2) Write the agenda

The agenda is the to-do list of the meeting, more precisely, the list of topics that will be addressed in the order with the objectives.

A few rules :

  • The agenda specifies the list of participants.

  • A realistic agenda does not include more than 1 to 2 complex topics (which will require the participation of all) and 2 to 3 short points (presentation by a team member or two).

  • If a subject is complex, you can split it into several stages.

  • For regular meetings, ask participants to set the agenda. You will avoid oversights and it will be more motivating for the team.

Office solutions provide templates for the agenda. On a collaborative platform, you can fill in the "agenda" section at the time of the invitation.

3) Invite the stakeholders

The invitation to the meeting must be effective:

  • The ideal number of participants is 3–8. Identify the team members by the subject because they are its players. Identify those who might be involved later or affected. Invite them as well, or keep them informed.

  • Send out an invitation on the internal messaging service/internal diary/collaborative platform. Check everyone’s availability. Set a date and a comfortable venue suitable for the number of participants.

  • The purpose of the meeting must be summarized, explicit, and motivating. For example: “New delegations: let’s get organized”, “Quality problem: let’s find a solution”, etc.

  • Join the agenda.

4) Welcome and opening: 10–15% of the time
  • Greet all the participants.

  • If they don’t know each other, introduce them quickly (name and position). If there are fewer than seven, ask them to introduce themselves.

  • Go over the agenda i.e. the various sequences in order, stipulating that it must be followed.

  • Confirm that everyone is in agreement with the objective; if not, redefine it.

  • Get everyone to visualize the objective: “at the end of this meeting, we will have found the solution to address these complaints and our customers will congratulate us for the quality of the service.”

  • Announce the time allocated and the necessity of adhering to this: from 10 mins (for a stand-up briefing and information meeting) to 40 mins for type 3, 4, and 5 meetings. A creative meeting can last longer, provided it is structured.

5) Production: 70–80% of the meeting time

The productive phase of the meeting must be structured. For example:

  1. Identify the causes of the quality problem;

  2. Find solutions;

  3. Vote for the one to be adopted.

The productive phase requires the use of classic techniques. Nowadays, some of these are made easier and highly productive by the collaborative tools:

Roundtable

The roundtable consists in giving everyone the chance to speak in turn.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a very popular collective creativity technique (Osborn, 1940) whose 4 phases are:

  1. Frame the challenge question. For example: “how to simplify the use of a smartphone application for older people?”

  2. Open the divergent phase. Start the production of ideas: no censoring, nor self-censorship, favour the quantity of ideas, all ideas even surreal ones are welcome, encourage multiplication by contradiction, rebound, association of ideas.

  3. Open the convergent phase. Select the 3 most relevant ideas, eliminating unrealistic ones. To do so, define a maximum of 3 selection criteria (e.g. “existence of internal resources, cost, customer impact”), which you may or may not weight.

  4. Vote for the best solution.

Small workshops

Once there are more than 7 participants, it can be more productive to work in small workshops:

  • Form groups of 2, 3, or 4.

  • The instructions must be simple and clear, with a time limit.

  • Each group appoints a time-keeper and a speaker who will give/write the group's report.

  • You can opt for online collaborative note-taking (Collabe, Rexpad, Zlip, Slack, etc.)

Either each workshop handles a different subject, or each group[T3] tackles the same subject, to enrich the research.

Voting

Each time you submit a decision to a vote, choose the most productive method according to the situation: anonymous or not.

You can use the sticky label method:

Hand out different coloured sticky labels: one colour for each voting criterion. The participants evaluate each proposal using their stock of sticky labels according to a number of criteria, either on a sheet (anonymous), or on a flipchart (public). Count up the sticky labels, and there you have it!

Remote participation

Video conferencing lets you hold a multi-site meeting.

6) The follow-up: 10–15% of the meeting time

Designate those carrying out the follow-up and if necessary someone responsible for it. Set a date for a follow-up or final report meeting.

Using the collaborative tools, these tasks are immediately programmed for the named persons through the shared diary. Each person contributes to the meeting report online. If you don’t use a collaborative tool, a report of the meeting should recapitulate the actions decided, players and deadlines.

7) Conclusion and thanks

The conclusion is brief. It highlights the achievement of the objective announced at the start of the meeting.

Don’t forget to thank all the participants for having made themselves available and above all for the good work and solutions you found together. ☺️

Avoid pitfalls with the following actions:

Handle objections

Objections in a meeting are always uncomfortable, as they momentarily divert the action and sap energy and motivation. Yet they must be dealt with, as they do often reflect a difficulty that will then be a burden in the post-meeting follow-up.

Make use of all your skills in active listening, empathy, positive communication, and assertiveness to:

  1. get to the bottom of the objection by asking questions,

  2. re-phrase to check you have correctly understood,

  3. adapt your proposal or argue its usefulness,

  4. conclude by confirming that the adaptation or argument are accepted by the objector.

Reduce hindrances

When you suggest an unusual way of proceeding (brainstorming, timed roundtable, etc.), certain team members may reject your ideas unconsciously which could limit their participation and hamper the benefits of your proposal.

Manage blockages

Your ability to spot the non-verbal signs allows you to spot a blocked person or situation before you lose time or have arguments.

If the blockage comes from a disagreement about the content, you are in a “responding to an objection” situation.

If the blockage is really about relationships, bring things back into line, taking care to maintain your benevolence by using the techniques of positive communication:

“I can see we’re stuck on this point, which is fundamental for our project to move forward. I suggest we start again, and I’d like to ask you to listen better/show more tolerance to each other. To avoid interruptions, we’re going to let everyone speak for a set time.”

Channel talkative people

There are several types of talkative people:

  • those who have a need for recognition or human contact that is thwarted elsewhere,

  • those who are not very good at summarizing,

  • those who are looking for an entertaining interaction,

  • those who genuinely don’t agree.

Running agile meetings

You are a leader, not necessarily a manager, and you are powering agile practices within your team.

Here are a few techniques for agile meetings:

1) Create the conditions for shared efficiency: accelerator roles

This technique makes it possible to halve the duration of recurring meetings with a group of team members who know each other well enough. It makes it possible to anchor effective behaviours.

It involves sharing the function of leading by entrusting certain roles to the participants. These roles change at each meeting:

  • Time-keeper: they know the time allocated to each sequence and announce the time left 5 minutes before the end of each sequence.

  • Objective guarantor: they intervene when the group is digressing to bring it back towards the objective

  • Process observer : they intervene when they notice a malfunction (failure to listen, mistaken interpretations, aggressiveness, blockage), describing the nature of the blockage in a factual manner and refocusing.

  • Decision-pusher: when the discussion gets bogged down, they intervene to move towards a decision with the magic phrase: “What do we decide?”

  • Reporter: they are responsible for the meeting report, whether it is collaborative or not, clarify, and re-phrase.

Explain the process and appoint the people to their roles during the opening phase of the meeting. You can prod them during the meeting if they don’t play their role: “Time-keeper, how much time is there left”, “Process Observer, have you any comments?”, etc.

2) Create the condition of availability: the check-in

A great many meetings get bogged down for metabolic reasons: a general lack of energy and slowness of the imaginative faculties. The “right brain” (language, association of ideas, analogies, sensory perception) needs to be stimulated before any creative session.

The check-in involves making it easier to express feelings, infuse energy, stimulate creativity, and create a climate of trust. It’s an excellent ice-breaker when the participants don’t know each other - or only slightly.

You can make use of some of these exercises:

  1. “weather report”: everyone introduces themselves briefly, giving their initial mood like a weather forecast: (strong sunshine, cloudy but dry, thunderstorm, moderate wind, cold snap, cyclone, etc.)

  2. everyone answers the question “What am I expecting from/afraid of in this meeting?” in a single sentence

  3. an object chosen in advance is passed around the participants and each one must invent an improbable use for this object, miming it

  4. the ball game: a ball is tossed around. When they catch the ball, each participant says their name, and everyone repeats it before the ball is thrown again

  5. everyone sits round the table in order, according to the colour of their eyes: from darkest to lightest, or vice-versa

3)  Give meaning: the check-out

The check-out is a useful recap of the meeting's learning points. It makes it possible to broaden the field of awareness of the team members, give sense to tasks that are sometimes basic, and to grasp the collective tone at the end of the meeting. It’s a short form of the technique of journaling (guided learning process by keeping a logbook).

The check-out can be made a ritual at the conclusion phase, with 2 roundtables, announcing the duration (± 5 minutes, depending on the number of participants):

  1. The first time round the table, each person answers, in no more than one sentence, one or more questions chosen according to the theme of the meeting: “What have I learned?” or “What does that change in my view of the world/my skills?”, or “What am I going to implement?”

  2. Then the second time round the table, everyone answers the question: “How am I feeling?” with an adjective (or a colour or an animal).

The check-out holds the attention of the team members, who know they’re going to have to express themselves at the end of the meeting.

Summary

  • To run efficient meetings, validate these 7 phases:

    1. Define the subject and the objective.

    2. Write the agenda.

    3. Invite the stakeholders.

    4. Devote 10–15% of the time to the welcome.

    5. Devote 70-80% of the time to producing: (1) identify the causes of the quality problem, (2) find solutions and (3) vote for the one to be adopted.

    6. Devote10–15% of the time to a follow-up.

    7. Conclude and thank the participants.

  • Avoid pitfalls by:

    • Handling objections.

    • Reducing hindrances.

    • Managing blockages.

    • Channelling talktative people.

  • Run agile meetings designed for availability in the face of change and to favour individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

    • Create the conditions for shared efficiency with accelerator roles.

    • Create the conditions for availability with the check-in.

    • Give meaning to meetings with the check-out.

Knowing how to keep control of the time in a meeting is fundamental. The next section gives you a few additional tips for conserving your time and motivation in a team context. 😁

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement