I don’t consider myself an expert meeting organizer or facilitator. But I do know a thing or two about what makes a good meeting. Like many of you, I have probably participated in hundreds of meetings in my professional career. In my work coaching and running software teams, I have definitely facilitated my share of meetings. I’ve even taken a course or two on meeting facilitation, and read some excellent books.
Based on this experience, I have developed a little rubric for myself about the minimum requirements for a successful meeting. And that rubric is this.
Every meeting needs an objective, an agenda, and a facilitator.
This is not revolutionary or rocket science, but it is violated so often that it bears repeating over and over again. Here’s a breakdown of these three requirements.
Every meeting needs an objective. What is the purpose of the meeting? Why are you there? What do you hope will happen by the end of the meeting? What do you want people walking away knowing, understanding, or doing?
This sounds straightforward, but I have been in way too many meetings where the objective of the meeting is not made clear. Many people assume that the title of the meeting on the electronic invite should be sufficient to clue people in about he objective. It may be in some cases, but it certainly never hurts to clarify.
Every meeting needs an agenda. There are lots of great resources available to teaching you how to create a meeting agenda. How will you accomplish the meeting objective? What topics will you discuss? What activities will you conduct? The most useful tip I’ve learned in this area is to structure a meeting agenda as a set of questions that you will progressively answer as a group (see the example below).
Creating an agenda also forces you to think about how much time you want to spend on each part of the meeting. Way too many meetings start without a plan, and then participants find themselves surprised 2/3 of the way through by the fact that they have run out of time for the other things they wanted to accomplish. Without an agenda, this should not be a startling result.
Every meeting needs a facilitator. This does not need to be a skilled, licensed, professional facilitator. It just means that everyone recognizes who is in charge of making sure that the meeting accomplishes its objectives.
The facilitator is the person to whom the rest of the group grants authority to help the group accomplish what they have set out to do. [See facilitation explained] The facilitator presents the objective, gains agreement on the objectives and approach, then does their best to help the group stick to their agenda to the extent that it helps them reach their goal.
Again, this seems straightforward, but there are so many meetings with no clear person facilitating. It doesn’t have to be the most senior person there (nor should everyone assume that the most senior person there is automatically in charge). But the facilitator does need to be recognized by everyone in the room as the one running the meeting.
Here is a quick real-world example to illustrate
MEETING TITLE: Iteration #5 Preparation
OBJECTIVE: Update the overall release plan, and decide on the final list of stories for Iteration #5
ATTENDEES: Product Owner, Engineering Manager, Technical Lead, Other Team Members, Coach
FACILITATOR: Jane (team member)
[5 min] Welcome, review objectives
[5 min] What will be completed in iteration #4?
[10 min] What has changed since iteration #4 started?
- New stories
- Re-estimated stories
- Updated velocity prediction
- Any changed priorities
[10 min] How should the release plan be updated?
[5 min] Are we still OK with the overall release predictions?
- Best case
- Worst case
- Most likely
[5 min] What will we tackle in iteration #5?
[2 min] How will we communicate these changes?
[3 min] Close
It doesn’t have to be fancy or difficult. You can do this kind of preparation for many situations in only a few minutes. But remembering these three things—an objective, an agenda, and a facilitator—will improve all kinds of meetings, from short one-on-one sessions to large, multi-day affairs with many participants.