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What are some thoughts on maintaining good meeting hygiene?

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Senior Software Engineer at Twitter2 years ago

I was wondering if you have any thoughts about how to run a meeting/brainstorming session effectively keeping a time check and also ensuring that everyone in the meeting gets a chance to speak. Although this is not a new situation, I have struggled with cutting people off when they sort of hijack the meeting taking all the time leaving others checked out. They don't necessarily mean any harm most of the times or don't intend to steal the thunder but as an organizer it is my responsibility to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance to speak. The main challenge is that most of the times what they are talking makes sense atleast 70-80% of the content so I find it difficult to cut them off easily without being rude or disrespectful. Being rude/disrespectful is the last thing I want to do! And a few are fast speakers that don’t catch cues of someone attempting to say something. Again, not at all a new situation and I think I do an okay job if not a great job in navigating through this but was curious to know additional thoughts and perspectives.

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(4 comments)
  • 29
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    Staff SWE at Google, ex-Meta, ex-Amazon
    2 years ago

    I can’t tell if this is about a single instance you intend to run, and have had experiences like this in the past, or if this is a reoccurring meeting with a similar group of people. Why it matters is because meeting hygiene like this is a habit not just an action you take one time. If you have a similar group, this is a habit you can build together, and gradually refine it over time so that it works for the group. If this is a one off it is going to take a lot of preplanning and structure.

    I am going to challenge some of the presuppositions next. Everyone doesn’t need to speak. Not everyone wants to speak. Everyone needs an opportunity, but forcing people to speak is not inclusive and will push some people out of attending in the future, and it will be at significant cost. Them being there, listening, and chiming in if it’s critical or giving feedback offline is really important. If they are intermittently non-verbal, have social anxiety, require time to process and synthesize verbally presented information, whatever… give them that space and choice without taking their seat.

    With that out of the way, have as many alternative means of engagement as possible. Let people physically in the meeting room add things or ask questions using a chat function of your meeting software. Let them use a facilitator as a mouth piece, sending the message privately to be read aloud. Give very clear indications of how follow ups should be sent so the whole group gets them and they are incorporated into the notes and action items (you have someone dedicated to taking notes and recording action items, right?).

    So then when you DO need to cut someone off, how do you do that graciously? It helps if you establish norms in advance rather than having to do this ad hoc. Again, if this is an established team it is a lot easier to norm globally than just in a single meeting. Regardless, if it’s clear that when you need to move on, any person can say Radish and the note taker will note that person X was discussing topic Y, and left off with point Z, it will be clear that this is a “to be continued” rather than “shut up”, and the person can finish their thought offline in the agreed upon forum. If someone will not respect norms, escalating to less polite means can be necessary. You can be firm and not rude, though. “We gave a signal to move on, and gave some time to wrap up, but now we absolutely move on. I look forward to reading the rest of the details on this in the follow up” “I’m sorry, I have to take the floor right now or we will have to break now and reschedule to get through the agenda” “I’m afraid we’ve tried a number of means to move on. Respectfully, I am taking the floor back immediately and we are moving on”

    If there is a single person that is causing this problem (I am sometimes this problem person), addressing it with them offline, and gathering their feedback in advance can help. Give them the document or agenda a day before, let them share all their thoughts, and add it to the document or preread or whatever. Protect the time. Meetings are extremely expensive and have goals and artifacts that must be generated.

    Some people have auditory processing or attention issues where they actually can’t hear you when they are speaking, or process it, or break. Having alternative inputs like a red light, a gentle tap (if they’ve agreed, again, norms help), a hand wave, a gavel rap… whatever, it may be the case that you need to have these modalities ready.

    If you don’t have an agenda you’ve already lost, so always start there. Honoring that is norm #2 after “be respectful to others, we are a team”.

    That got away from me a little. I’m probably going to edit it down for LinkedIn since I spent a lot of time on it. Here's the post.

    Good luck, happy meeting-facilitation!

  • 24
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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    2 years ago

    First, I recommend checking out the first half or so of our masterclass around impactful 1:1 meetings. That portion covers generally important high-level ideas around meetings and how to make them more efficient.

    Lee said 25 great, very insightful things I 100% agree with as he usually does, but I'll try to add on something useful regardless, haha.

    Here's my approach to meetings:

    1. Define an agenda beforehand.
    2. Share the agenda with the meeting attendees >4 hours before the meeting - Don't assume people will read the meeting invite; ping people in Slack/Teams/Work Chat to reinforce.
    3. During the meeting, make sure that the agenda is being achieved.

    I have seen so, so many meetings struggle at all 3 stages. If you aren't doing #1 and #2, do those. I feel like most engineers will do #1 but then whiff on #2. Making people seriously think about the meeting topics beforehand greatly increases their chances of sharpening their thoughts and not just going into the meeting and saying a bunch of stuff that is smart/correct but ultimately not directly relevant.

    And a few are fast speakers that don’t catch cues of someone attempting to say something.

    Even if you're not the meeting organizer, I firmly believe it's everyone's duty to make sure that anybody who wants to talk gets a chance to talk. Diminished meeting presence affects under-represented groups especially hard (women, minorities, people without a college degree, etc), so being a champion here seriously levels up your team by increasing the diversity of its voice. Tactically, I would say something like, "Sorry to interrupt, but I think [X person] might have had something to say.", and then look over/gesture to that person. However, be very careful when doing this, because as Lee mentioned, it can be very rough if you call on a person who doesn't actually want to talk.

  • 12
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    Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    2 years ago

    One commonality among people who run world-class meetings is that they have a very clear agenda for the meeting, and then they reaffirm that agenda (in a helpful way) throughout the meeting. Best illustrated through some sample phrases:

    • "I actually think that topic is best for topic X, which we'll get to at the end of the meeting. Are you fine if we put a pin on that?"
    • "Before we transition into topic Y, are there any last comments or questions on topic X?"
    • "Jean, I know your work relates to this discussion -- what do you think? How would you approach the tradeoff between X and Y?"
  • 6
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    Staff Software Engineer @ DoorDash, ex-FB, ex-Klaviyo
    2 years ago

    Lots of good suggestions on this read already. I will just add 3 quick points

    1. 100% agree you should have an agenda beforehand for any meeting (even 1:1s). On your meeting Agenda, you should clearly state what is the goal for this meeting.

    2. It's not disrespectful to interrupt a person that's clearly rambling. If the you feel the discussion is not related to the agenda / goal you trying to achieve, forcefully but politely point out we should stick to the agenda. You can do this by saying

      • that's a good discussion we should have outside of this meeting. let me document it and let's table that for now
    3. I often DM the person and check with them that they do not feel offended. As you said, most of the mare not intentionally hijacking the meeting.

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