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Productive Meetings

Don’t know what your experience is like, but for me it is the following. Meetings are much more productive when someone is standing at a white board and writes down ideas, risks, problems and what have you. I am sure every single human being who has attended enough meetings has observed the default pattern — or anti pattern — in meetings. Everyone has their point of view and does all necessary arguing to protect their idea. They fight each other instead of pulling together towards a common goal. Often after a long and useless meeting it is commonly decided (the only agreement) that another meeting is needed.
One way to counter this behavioral pattern is to mail out an agenda with all the topics and asking the participants to prepare. This might help but most often it does not. I even doubt that every recipient of the mail does read it entirely. It usually drowns in the sea of more important emails.
Now, imagine you are in a pissing contest meeting and someone gets up and starts to write the different points clearly visible down. In a heart beat the whole meeting has structure, everyone turns their head towards the board. Not the loudest voice is heard but all ideas. Often, after some time the whole group is working together towards a — just identified — common goal. If you don’t believe it, then give it a try at the next deadlocked meeting. You will be amazed how much power a white board and a marker in hand can create.
Why am I writing this? Well, Scrum has this at the core of all of it’s meetings. In Scrum we have four different meeting types. Sprint Planning meeting, Daily Scrum, Review and Retrospective. Usually each of those meetings is moderated by the Scrum Master. It might be moderated by someone else but it is always moderated! The medium to write on are either index cards or PostIts which are aranged on a white- or corkboard. Those cards are then updated and rearranged during the course of the sprint. A very visual way of management. Alistair Cockburn named it accordingly: Information Radiators.
Next time your are stuck in a non productive meeting just get up and start to use a marker and whiteboard. Everyone in the rooom will be grateful.
The future is Lean Agile.
PS If you are interested in a simple way to moderate a meeting then try out Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats

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