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Plan Efficient Meetings: Core Activities

This lesson is a part of an audio course Plan Efficient Meetings by Igor Arkhipov

Last time we talked about the warm-up exercises and wrap-up activities, but we skipped the important part – the core activities. Your meeting needs to be designed to support the goal, and depending on the type of meeting, different elements become important. Today, we will explore 4 types of meetings.

The first one is the information radiation meeting.

The typical purpose of this meeting apparently is to share information. For example, to share the project status update or deliver some news.

An example goal can be to update the steering committee on recent progress and flag risks.

As you can see, the goal is very informative in nature – when this is the case, always assess if there is a better way to communicate the information – remember we discussed when not to run a meeting? Quote, often an email will be enough.

However, if you decide having the meeting is important, take into account the following.

If it is a regular meeting, you don't need to run a warm-up every time. However, consider re-introductions every time the list of attendees changes.

Make sure the information delivered is relevant to the audience. If the audience is diverse and has different needs, consider splitting the session or adjusting the invites.

Make room for questions and further explanations. The ability to ask immediate questions is what makes information radiation meeting better than just sending an email with an update. So make use of this opportunity.

The next type is decision making meetings.

A typical purpose is to discuss a certain topic and agree on the next steps.

An Example goal can be to decide on which modelling notation to use to document a certain process in the organisation. You see how, unlike the previous one, this one implies collaboration and discussion to get aligned on the next steps or action items.

If you face a meeting like this, make sure the participants understand the decision-making process, otherwise, run an activity to agree on the process first. If we are making a decision we need to know how it works – is there a single decision-maker or not? If not, how do we land on a result – is it a plurality of votes (meaning whichever option gets the most amount of votes – win) or a majority of votes – this means more than half votes for a single option. Or will we accept the only consensus, which is a situation when everybody agrees with the same option?

Make sure decisions are unambiguously documented and verified during the meeting. No one should leave the room with a different understanding of decisions having been made. It helps to have them written on a separate wall or canvas and read-aloud towards the end of the session.

Side conversations are your worst enemies for decision making – they blur the focus, and people may not pay enough attention to assessing the options. So, introduce some rules and structure the session in a way that discourage irrelevant conversations.

The next type is innovation and problem-solving meeting.

This session is different from the previous one in the sense that when you run a problem-solving meeting – you typically don't have solution options at hand. So you cannot just make a decision which one to go ahead with – you need to innovate and invent a new solution in the room.

A typical purpose is to collect ideas and find the best creative solution.

An example goal could be to list all the possible ways to increase brand recognition for a certain product. This will allow us to run another decision-making session as a follow up to choose the best way forward.

When scoping an innovation meeting, start with stating the context. Include an activity to build a common understanding of the problem to solve. Make people fall in love with the problem, not the solutions they have in mind – so they can be open to new ideas and creative ways to resolve the situation.

Use techniques that boost creativity, such as a brainstorm, working in small groups, group conversations, or focus groups. These techniques will allow you to generate as many ideas as possible, bounce ideas of each other, and come up with even more suggestions.

For example, when working in small groups, you split the audience into several smaller teams and ask them to solve the same problem independently. This will allow each group to collaborate to come up with a better solution. At the same time, as you have multiple teams working simultaneously, they would usually end up with different solutions allowing you to choose the best one.

Consider introducing specific activities to look at the problem from different angles, such as the de Bono six thinking hats.

The way it works is you ask people to imagine they wear six colored hats one after another. When a certain hat is on, they should think in a particular way and only in this way. Once all the ideas for this type of thinking are exhausted, the team changes the hat. You can even prepare prop hats to make it more entertaining!

The first hat is usually the White Hat. It calls for information known or needed. With this hat on, people discuss only facts that are known and true. This is used to better reveal the current state and understand the context. This hat also asks questions to highlight the gaps in current understanding and the information available.

The Red Hat comes next. The Red Hat signifies feelings and intuition. With this hat on team discusses the emotional aspect of the problem.

The Black Hat. The Black Hat is judgment – the devil's advocate that throws in controversial ideas, risks, or predicts why something may not work.

The next one – Yellow Hat – symbolizes brightness and optimism. With this hat, the team discusses the positive opportunities, the future state, or what goes well in the current state.

Moving on to the Green Hat, the team focuses on creativity: the possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas. With this hat, the team explores alternatives or tries to come up with new solutions. It is a brainstorming hat.

Finally, the Blue Hat. The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process itself. It is a reflective hat. With this hat, participants don't discuss the subject matter, but rather assess their own process of thinking that they are following – what can be improved, how to run a similar session next time, or how to adjust the current process going forward.

Regardless of which technique you select, give everyone a chance to speak. You called the people into the room for a reason. It is likely they are the experts in their field. It will be a waste not to listen to their ideas.

Also, structure the process in a way that discourages critique. Creative thinking is easily disrupted with critical or sarcastic comments. Do not tolerate such things.

After the ideas are generated, introduce an activity to groom and prioritise those – such as dot voting. Give everybody a sticky dot or several (or use an online voting tool if you are running a remote session) and ask people to stick those on the idea they like the most. This way, you can sort them by the number of votes they receive and pick up the best.

The final type of meeting that we discuss today is the requirements elicitation meeting.

The purpose of such a meeting is to discuss the features expected from a potential solution.

An example goal can be to list all the use cases for an incident logging system.

In this case, explore different scenarios and options, including negative scenarios.

Validate the scenarios discussed against real business processes. You may include a role-playing exercise to play through the use cases and make sure they will work for the business. Finally, introduce a prioritisation exercise.

There are many types of meetings, and we have not discussed all of them.

The main takeaway of this part is structure activities to support the goal and get the audience engaged.

Thank you, we will speak soon.

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Written by

Igor Arkhipov