Status update meetings have dubious reputations. They can take too much time, apply to some team members more than others, and bore participants through static one-way presentations that could have been replaced by an email or shared document. According to a survey conducted by Clarizen, “employed Americans spend an average of 4.6 hours each week preparing for status meetings and 4.5 hours attending general status meetings.” Status meetings can waste people’s time and energy, and as a result, a company’s financial resources.
Alignment meetings, on the other hand, offer more promise for honoring people’s time and moving work forward. Alignment meetings differ fundamentally in objective and design from status update meetings. Here we share Meeteor’s journey from holding weekly status meetings to having more dynamic, and less frequent, alignment meetings. We hope our learnings can help you transform your staff meetings into something your team members look forward to rather than dread.
Finding the right kind of all-team meeting
As a company that improves meeting process and effectiveness, we wanted to design optimally effective meetings, and it took us a few iterations to get there.
As with all our meetings, we create meeting agendas in Meeteor to frame the conversation. We started our journey using Trello for meeting pre-work. Trello is a project management software which presents information across time or stage of development rather than just as a list, and was already being used by our product development (dev) team.
To prepare for our team meetings, every workstream leader in every department would post what their team was working on or had accomplished. We asked everyone to review the updates before the meeting; the meeting itself would be an overall review and deep dive into specific issues that needed conversation in real time. We discovered that while Trello works well for the dev team, it did not end up being the right platform to make our weekly team meetings more productive. Here’s why:
It captures a snapshot for every week but it’s difficult to see progress over time and how we’ve moved closer to a goal.
Each workstream appears separate from the others, although tasks across workstreams are often connected.
The page does not provide an easy way to ask questions or share feedback on the content, so each workstream leader still needs to spend time addressing questions during a meeting.
We also experimented with cancelling team meetings entirely and replacing them with “daily standups.” Since we’re a virtual team, we conducted these daily work shares in our online chat rooms. Every morning at 9am EST, each team member would spend a few minutes posting three items:
what we accomplished the day before,
what we planned to accomplish today, and
anything that stood in the way of accomplishing today's tasks, such as help or information we needed from other team members. We’d take those conversations to separate chat rooms to work out issues with our peers.
The goal of the daily standup was to facilitate cross-team collaboration without spending time in a regular real-time meeting. However, as our team and the complexity of the work grew, it became more challenging to keep up with all the updates. For example, while the dev team members understood each other’s updates, the information was not as helpful for members of the marketing department, and vice versa. Once in awhile there might be some cross-team task that would get resolved through the standup, but it did not justify the effort of a daily share. Finally, the nitty gritty details of this kind of stand up did not provide the big picture of Meeteor’s progress.
So where are we now? From status update meetings to team alignment meetings
We have since shifted to a company milestone driven approach and a bi-weekly 45 minute team alignment meeting. The purpose of the team alignment meeting is to help everyone take action based on the progress of each team, and to have have real-time conversations on important topics. For example, when the product team is ready to release new features, the marketing and customer success teams communicate these features to customers through our marketing website, newsletter and help articles. Alternately, customer feedback could help the product development team prioritize tasks.
7 learnings you can apply to your team alignment meetings
Here are 7 learnings we’ve discovered in our efforts to move our team meetings towards greater productivity. We hope they can help your company meetings become more useful and less time-intensive!
Instead of Trello, we now use a table in Google Docs with space to fill in team milestones and progress. Each workstream leader updates the status of their work prior to the meeting. The meeting leader sends an agenda to the group in advance, with a reminder to review the document. This lets us see team progress and comment on each other’s work, all before a meeting even occurs. We use our meeting time for clarifying, brainstorming, and problem solving discussions, and less for reporting out.
Each workstream leader starts their section with a high level recap and then we open it up for questions and input from the whole team. The purpose of having the meeting rather than solely relying on the Google doc is to draw out the great minds of our team and get feedback on questions. Each person should enter the meeting asking, “How does what I’m seeing/hearing affect my work? What do I need from my colleagues in order to move my work forward? What questions or ideas do I have that can help them move their work forward?”
After several experiments, our team landed on the frequency of meeting every other week. We hold the time on our calendars as a recurring event. But even then, if there are no big updates or we have addressed most questions before the meeting, we cancel the meeting and give people their time back. Never meet just for the sake of meeting.
With team members across 5 countries and 4 time zones, we make sure our virtual participants participate verbally during meetings. Meeting facilitators make statements like, “Let’s start with feedback from our virtual participants,” or “Alek, what do you think about this topic?”
Choose video over audio for your virtual meetings. Make sure everyone’s face is visible on the screen so people can take in each other’s body language, too.
5. Take narrow or detailed subjects offline
Sometimes a topic that only concerns a few people on the team starts to unfold into a full-fledged discussion - this is not the best use of the full team’s time. We have a norm that empowers every participant to speak up when the topic is too detailed Anyone can ask the small group to take the conversation offline instead, so the team alignment meeting can stay on track.
Since our team is scattered around the world, team alignment meetings are one of our few opportunities to all be together at the same time (even if virtually). While we share personal news and funny stories in our online chat rooms, hearing people’s voices and conversing in real time is still a valuable part of team bonding. We often take the first few minutes of these meetings to quickly share what’s happening in our lives outside of work.
As you may gather from this article, we experiment with different meeting formats to best serve what our company needs at any particular moment. We reflect together on our work and adjust our process accordingly. And, we encourage team members to challenge our current way of meeting at any time.
What is the state of your team meetings? Which of these learnings could improve them? What are other learnings you’ve uncovered for more effective team meetings?
Looking for more meeting and productivity best practices?
Meeteor’s new book, Momentum: Creating Effective, Engaging and Enjoyable Meetings, is now available on Amazon. Click here to get your copy today.