In so many organisations I visit, the same lament continuously seems to surface: “We spend so much time in meetings!”. As a coach, when I then try to implement a framework such as Scrum, which defines 5 ceremonies per sprint that each take up their time, without taking into account the team’s current situation, I’m already set up to fail.
Sometimes teams have lived in this situation, where meetings reign, for so long that they don’t see it anymore: how could they possibly stop going to these meetings? To help them get out of this dead-end street, some of us at Co-Learning got together and created the GO FAR canvas for succesful meeting culture. This acronym covers 5 of the most important elements to take into account when considering to organise or attend a meeting.
The acronym is based on the following 5 steps:
Any meeting you attend should have a single clearly defined main goal. This way, anyone entering the meeting knows exactly what they’re going to talk about and could even prepare in order to make the meeting as effective as possible. A lot of meetings turn out to have a fuzzy goal, even if an agenda is defined prior to the meeting. I’ve been in so many meetings where the agenda is not adhered to, or the topics were so unclear that the goal was unclear to all attendees. This leads to duplicate meetings, repeating of meetings and a growing frustration and feeling of time wasted. The goal setting of a meeting is the first step in order to answer the question: “Why should we even have this meeting?”.
When you organise a meeting, you should have some idea of the desired outcome of the meeting. It’s again part of the answer to the “Why?” question. The desired outcome could be an answer to a specific question, or a clarifiation on a situation at hand, a decision being made, or even a presentation so that information is radiated and instructions can be given. Setting a desired outcome to your meeting will help you bring focus to the meeting and avoid diverging from the topic at hand. Setting a goal and desired outcome together with a meeting facilitator (should you have one) will help you design the meeting in the most effective way.
The meeting format is heavily dependent on the goal and desired outcome of your meeting. The format will vary based on the content. Different kinds of format could be a presentation (information radiation), a facilitated interactive workshop (brainstorming), a combination of presentation and open discussion (proposal forming),… Deciding on the format of your meeting will help you identify wether you need an external facilitator or not. For a workshop format, you might at this point consider also completing the 7P Canvas with a facilitator.
All too often I hear people coming out of a meeting saying: “I have no clue why I was invited to this meeting!”. These people usually spend time in the meeting not saying a word, being frustrated because there is still a lot of work waiting for them and desperately trying to find their added value. Again, this can lead to a lot of frustration. And walking out is seen as rude and “not done”. We want to be polite, so we sit through it, and our mood suffers. When organising a meeting and defining a goal, desired outcome and format, the kind of attendees you seek should become clear. If your desired outcome is a decision, make sure the correct decision maker is invited. If you’re meeting about how to technically implement a feature in an application, make sure the people doing the work are invited as well as the people using the software, etc. If you have an external facilitator, go through the attendees list with this person to bounce your ideas off them, it will only bring more focus to the meeting.
Some meetings only need to be held once. Like an information radiator meeting. Once the information is clarified, you’re done. Agile ceremonies usually have some kind of set recurrence, e.g. per sprint for Scrum, or per agreed time period for kanban. Some meetings need to be a series to get from an idea to an actual action list. It’s important that everyone involved knows as quickly as possible what the recurrence of the meeting will be. This will allow for focus as well as good agenda hygiene.
Transitioning to a healthier meeting culture
When you start to transition to a healthier meeting culture, I always take some time to organise a workshop with the teams and managers I’m working with. I fill in the canvas for this workshop as an example. My goal is to set them up for better meetings. The desired outcome is for them to realise what meetings they should decline and what meetings they should reshuffle. The format is an interactive workshop where first of all we gather the different kinds of meetings they’ve attended over the course of 2 weeks. We then proceed to fill out the canvas for each of the meetings and discuss. The attendance is the team, or a community of practice, or a group of managers. The recurrence is once, with a possible repeat should the time window prove to be too short.
During this exercise, and especially when we are transitioning to Scrum, I also ask them to fill in the canvas for each Scrum ceremony and then identify where they see overlap in existing meetings they continue to attend. The often perceived overhead of the Scrum ceremonies usually disappears with this exercise, and a lot of previously existing meetings are cancelled, helping the organisation on a journey to a healthy meeting culture. A great exercise to do during a Scrum kick-off training.
Want to try it?
Curious to try this out for yourself? You can visit our Resources page for a free download in pdf format (A3) by clicking on the below image. You can print this out in the desired size, or draw it on a large canvas to get your team to work on it in groups. And let us know if it was helpful in turning a bad situation around!