Meetings 101

  • Avoid meetings—Avoid multisite meetings except for the standard large-scale Scrum joint events, such as a joint Retrospective. Challenge extra meetings. “Does this topic simply belong in one of the Sprint meetings?”
  • Know and state the goal—For any meeting (Scrum event or otherwise), if you are the facilitator, open the meeting by knowing and stating a clear goal, or inviting others to do so. A great meeting has clearly stated action, decision, or learning goals that are understood by the group… “We decided that our goal in this retrospective is to learn why the build is often broken, and to design one two-week action to reduce the problem.”
  • Prepare an agenda—In the repeating Scrum events, the ‘agenda’ may be a semi-standard pattern that the group tacitly knows, so written agendas may be overkill. But otherwise, do indeed write one on a wiki page that everyone can see during a multisite meeting. After the goal has been stated for the meeting, review the agenda and invite improvement. If it is not too inconvenient, the group may then consider following the agenda. If the meeting is long enough to include a mid-meeting break, then after the break, review and evolve the agenda for the remaining time.
  • Have a parking lot and a facilitator with parking lot authority—Good meetings are not dysfunctionally controlled by one person, but… it is useful to have an officially identified gentle-yet-firm facilitator in long meetings who has authority to decide, “This issue is dragging on; we will park it in five minutes” or “This is a side issue; we will park it in one minute.” Otherwise a meeting can drift, or be hijacked by one person. On the wiki agenda page, include a “parking lot” where issues can be parked—perhaps to be raised at another time.
  • Use structured activities and workshop tools rather than just open discussion or presentations—This leads to the vast topic of workshop tools and activities over simply talking in a meeting, a topic largely outside the scope of this overview. In short, learn about structured workshop activities and try these, rather than only open discussion. For example, brainwriting, mind mapping, affinity clustering, brainstorming, planning poker, and many more tools are useful. In the context of multisite video sessions, these may be doable as one group, or may require diverge-converge cycles (ref xxx).
  • Practice and teach active listening—A foundation of any good meeting is listening to understand. You may not agree, but you should understand. Active listening includes both mental and verbal habits to better understand [ref xxx]. Mental habits include willful concentration or attention on the speaker (and willful neglect of internal mental activity), so that the message is simply heard. Verbal habits include checking or paraphrasing the message, and asking for repetition or rephrasing. Asking for repetition or rephrasing is especially useful in multisite meetings because of transmission problems: signal degradation, foreign accents, and more. Checking understanding by paraphrasing is unfamiliar to some people, but easy to adopt. In multisite meetings it is doubly valuable due to the transmission problems. At Xerox for example, where people have been formally encouraged to practice active listening, it is common to hear someone reply by first asking, “Let me check my understanding. I think you said <X>. Is that correct?” This checking is directly useful, and has the indirect benefit of cultivating an attitude of mutual inquiry in addition to the more common competitive advocacy. Both elements are useful in work meetings [APS85].
  • Occasionally inspect and adapt—It would be boring and repetitious to do this frequently, but occasionally end a multisite meeting with a simple two-minute retrospective… “What was useful or not useful in the way we held this meeting? Suggestions to make it more effective?”