In meetings, bloody meetings I covered some common issues with how meetings are conducted and also provided some ways to address these. Another form is the silent meeting, put forth by David Gasca at Twitter and used at Amazon as well. These meetings are based on the common phenomena that most attendees do not read material in advance and that a slideshow is not the best way to convey complex information. Instead, a ‘table-read’ narrative of not more than 6 pages is presented at the meeting and attendees start by silently reading this document.
This type of silent meeting requires:
- An agenda — includes goals, non-goals, suggested timetable, & if a note-taker is needed.
- The ‘Table Read’ — the main source of discussion, commenting, & reflection.
- A facilitator to synthesize comments & lead discussions.
- Commenting silently & then reading others’ comments before engaging in discussion.
Gasco says that, “The rule of thumb for when Silent Meetings are great is for any complicated decision that requires deep thought.” They can also work with a large number of people. The key to a successful silent meeting is a good Table Read. It is harder than creating a slide presentation.
A common Strategic Narrative Table Read often involves mixing and matching the pieces below:
Meeting Agenda: What is the purpose of this document and this meeting? What is the meeting process?
Background: What are we here today to discuss? What is the problem we’re trying to solve and what is the background information we need to know?
Principles: What are the parameters for solving the problem? Do we have core company, team or product principles we need to ensure we keep in mind?
Options identified that can solve problem: What are the potential ways we can solve the problem and what are their pros and cons?
Recommendation: What is the team’s recommendation for solving the problem and why? What does this imply as next steps?
Discussion questions: Where do we want to focus the discussion? Are there clear decisions that we want to make or areas that we want input on specifically?
FAQs: This is where Frequently Asked Questions get documented. I’ll elaborate more on this below but this section is where you can put details that are relevant to a subset of the audience.
Appendix: Put anything here that you want to keep track of for later but don’t really need the audience to read for the meeting. Some typical examples includes, research details, data tables, glossaries, etc.
Another source of knowledge about planning and conducting meetings is Liberating Structures — 33 different meeting types for Revealing, Analyzing, Spreading, Planning, Strategizing, and Helping. The site links to free mobile applications — Google Play & Apple App Store — that explain what each structure is good for, how to conduct the meeting, and the rationale behind it. I have only used one so far, but plan to test out more of these.
There is no longer any excuse not to run better meetings.