Facilitating a Great Meeting

As a lot of companies switched their mode into WFH and try to move toward remote-first, we need to know how to best interact prior to, during, and after meetings. For meetings to be effective, it is imperative to have a clear agenda, well thought through pre-reads, proper meeting setup, and a fully engaged audience. We will spend less time in meetings if we are more disciplined at meetings.  

You should invite the right people to a meeting; those who actually need to be there. Start with identifying participants, but make sure their schedules are free during the meeting’s time.  If inviting a set of people as a group (ex: devops@company.com) prefer to invite the google group rather than the people individually.  That way, it will be clear to others who are invited. Use “Find A Time” in google calendar to easily find a good time to set your meeting.

Always check if key stakeholders have accepted the invite. It’s important to know how many and who exactly is coming to a meeting. If some participants are needed to make a decision and they don’t attend, it wastes everyone’s time.

✅ Parking Lot

A “parking lot” is a technique for dealing with important, but distracting, non-agenda items that come up during a meeting. You need to recognize these items, but not let them interrupt your focus and agenda goals. You record them, ensuring they’re acknowledged, remembered, and addressed, but don’t interrupt the ongoing meeting flow. 

Before starting, put a chart labeled “Parking Lot” on the wall or whiteboard. For meetings with remote participants, put a “Parking Lot” section in your agenda document or also Google doc. When a non-agenda item comes up, it’s written down in the Parking Lot and discussion of its ends. 

Capture Parking Lot items in your action items, otherwise your parking lot is really a junkyard.

✅ Meetings Expand to Fill their Time

Meetings expand to fill their scheduled duration. People hate ending meetings early, asking questions like “Anything else?”, prompting increasingly less useful discussions. A better way is to ask “Have we reached the point of diminishing returns?”.

✅ Meetings are Expensive

Attendees can’t (and shouldn’t)  otherwise work during a meeting, so each minute counts. Meetings are expensive in terms of distraction, time investment, etc.. Be sure a meeting isn’t better served by an email, chat discussion, or just distributing a document. 

✅ Lack of Participation

There are very effective ways to encourage participation when you want feedback from attendees: retrospectives, brainstorming, etc. Don’t wait for attendees to speak up, which could be challenging in different cultures, but get written feedback. For example, during retrospectives, don’t ask the group to say what went well, but have them write it down in a doc (for distributed meetings) or post-it notes (if all are present). Then review the submissions.  

A good moderator also notices who’s not speaking in general. While you don’t want to encourage talking for the sake of talking, if you’re asking for opinions on something, sometimes explicitly call on your shyer attendees or those who tend not to show as much initiative to get their contributions. If you have a very active contributor in a regularly scheduled meeting, you might speak to them privately about holding back a bit to give others a chance to jump in.

✅ Use of the “optional” flag and optional attendees

Often, we set up a meeting, like a team meeting with the founders, and invite many people. While many will be eager to attend, some will not find it useful. In every culture, but especially in some Asian cultures, people feel obligated to attend even if it’s not useful to them. If your meeting is truly optional for someone, mark them as optional in GCal. For teams, note that if some members are optional, you can invite key people as required and invite the entire team as optional.

 ✅ Closing the Meeting 

Meetings without action items or decisions are not useful or effective. Each meeting needs a follow up in GDocs (if more follow-ups will be necessary) or MoM over email so everyone is on the same page about the next steps.

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