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Nigel Walpole Top tips for facilitating successful agile meetings

“We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when…”

The introduction of Agile Working can make this lyric a reality.

It is all too easy for busy agile workers to neglect meetings and, as many organisations have learned, this can damage innovation, communication, engagement and trust – and that is serious damage.

There are two considerations here. Should face-to-face meetings still happen (the answer is almost certainly yes) and what needs to be done to get the best out of virtual meetings?

The reason that face-to-face meetings tend to fall by the wayside is simple – newly created agile workplaces want to avoid what they see as the long drawn out ‘information sharing’ events that have happened everywhere co-located teams have gathered.

But it is important to remember that, if done right, meetings can be a very collaborative way to generate solutions to problems and create new initiatives whilst maintaining positive relationships within teams.

The key is getting the balance correct and making the most of those, albeit less frequent, face-to-face meetings. Meeting organisers need to decide on the right frequency – has the gap been long enough for sufficient activity to have taken place – and the right time – who is travelling and from where.

Chairs (group)

Thereafter it is about getting the structure right. It is increasingly recognised in the agile world that face-to-face meetings are a really bad place to initially share information, and more focus around the discussion of information is required. But this is a difficult aspect to get right. A free-for-all for will lead to some people and issues naturally dominating the discussion and important problems won't get addressed.

I know of one organisation that gives 10 minutes per person, not to report on what they are doing but only to ask questions of their colleagues. It seems to ensure that distributed briefing papers are read beforehand! They also have a designated timekeeper.

As I said the other big issue for agile teams is getting the best out of virtual meetings.

One aspect, so often underestimated, is the right equipment – “you can get an internet connection, can't you?”

But as anyone who has ever ‘attended’ a virtual meeting will tell you, it's not quite that simple. A poor internet connection and/or a poor headphone/microphone makes participation in the meeting almost unbearable for everyone.

Assuming you have your equipment sorted, here are some tips for improving your virtual meetings.

  1. Set and circulate some guidelines and reinforce shared responsibility: e.g. phones fully charged, no noisy backgrounds or poor connections, no muting for multi-tasking, no speaking over each other
  2. Train people to use the equipment and software
  3. Schedule a specific time and stick to it. Send reminder emails with necessary materials. Join early and start on time (speak to any late arrivals afterwards, asking them to be on time in future)
  4. Invite suggestions for agenda items, circulate well in advance and assign discussion topics to participants
  5. Choose the right medium
  6. Consider how much collaboration will be necessary – video call, instant messaging, whiteboard functionality, polling questions, shared screens
  7. Change the presenter occasionally and get as many participants involved as possible
  8. Assign each participant a responsibility during the meeting as well as at least one follow-up item
  9. Assign someone the responsibility to take notes of agreed actions (review frequently to help them) and maybe someone to track time
  10. Ask people to use their names when speaking (unless their voices are very familiar to each other)
  11. Minimise tangential discussion (this can be hard with lack of visual cues) so
    1. Be well prepared
    2. Interrupt to re-focus
    3. Pay attention to the flow of discussion
    4. Summarise the point being discussed
    5. Ask direct questions of individuals – especially if they have been quiet for a while – e.g. ‘Chris, what are you thoughts’ rather than ‘any comments anybody’
  12. End on time. If necessary, schedule a second meeting

Perhaps my introductory song lyric was wrong.

In a well-organised agile working world, following these top tips:

“We’ll want to meet again, we will know where (and how) is best to meet, we will know when and we’ll start and end on time!”

If you’d like to talk about how we can help you create and manage Agile working environments, please give us a call.

Nigel Walpole

Nigel Walpole, MD, Bray Leino Learning

In my series of blogs I’ll talk through my thoughts on some of the key issues facing managers in the workplace - lessons learnt, tips for success and general musings.

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