This is my first beyond-outlook post (where I write about efficient methods, which are not leveraged by Outlook).
There are endless books on How we should conduct our meetings – objectives, agenda, summary, etc. I read quite a few of them – very useful information to get the right guidelines in performing efficient meetings. However, I was feeling there is still something missing in order to take those meetings to the next level. So I have decided to challenge the norms and do some experiments on myself and on my teams, which were kind enough to participate in those experiments (I hope they don’t hold that against me now…).
Traditional meeting room
Meeting room with a big table and chairs around it. If you are lucky, there is a white board placed on one of the walls, away from the table. If you are working in technology company, you might also have an audio or video conferencing device for connecting remote people.
What bothers me in that room
The table. Yes, the table.
If we come to think about it – what the purpose of the table is? We are not serving food or treats during the meeting (at least not in most of them). We don’t encourage bringing laptops to the meetings (laptop == multi-tasking == person-not-engaged == why-this-person-came-to-the-meeting). Well, maybe except for the organizer or presenter, but that is just one person with a laptop.
So what the table is used for? I think it is used for hiding behind it, for blocking some of our body language, for text messaging behind the table, for putting barriers between us and the other participants. It is a kind of a shield that blocks the meeting energy and people’s engagement. It doesn’t sound like something I want to have in my meetings.
And there is the white board – the tool for collaboration, which is placed on one of the walls and has limited access for most of the participants. White board is great, I love it, but the limited access to it lowers the collaboration volume in the room.
Not a good room design in my opinion. The more I come to think of it, the more I’m confused on why rooms in high-tech companies, that foster for brainstorming and idea sharing, are designed that way.
I would use those rooms maybe for status meetings or large audience meetings. Personally, I’m trying to reduce those types of meetings to a bare minimum.
Standup meeting room
This one is on the other extreme. No tables, no chairs, all standing up. Those kind of meetings are designed for high engagement. Researches show that meeting standing up enables us to accomplish the same goal in a shorter time (33% shorter).
I have tried it in various combinations. I am using those in our Scrum daily meetings that take 5 to15 minutes. This works very well. I have tried 30 minutes standup meeting – those were a bit too much for the people to take.
A great way to meet for short discussions – up to 20 minutes. It is really an efficient usage of the time and enables high engagement of the people. The problem is that most companies don’t have such rooms. I recommend to fight for such a room. If you have many meeting rooms in your company, choose one and get the table and chairs out of it. It worth it.
The kind of meeting room I like
I like small forum sit-down meeting room with a few chairs located around a low table – a table that is used for collaboration. I never saw such meeting room in any of the companies I worked for. I constructed such by finding a low-coffee table made of glass. This table enabled me to draw on it for collaboration (just make sure the you can erase the marker pen as well, otherwise it is on-time table).
The fact that the table is low, enables people to see each other head to toes, which enables more engagement. The fact that people can see each other head to toes really makes a difference in the engagement levels.
Moreover, the fact the people sit within the same distance from the table, enables each one of the participants to collaborate in the same manner – all have the same unlimited access to the collaboration table.
I found it very useful for low-scale, brainstorming-oriented meetings.
Bring it all together
As most of the meetings I encourage in my group are small-forum idea-sharing and brainstorming meetings (as opposed to status meetings and large forum meetings), I find the standup and low-table-room meetings most efficient.
I know the low-table room sounds at first like a strange idea (and people walking by my room think I got crazy), but it works for me and my teams. People gave feedback that it is fun and efficient (or maybe they are just happy because the meeting is sitting down instead of standing up). Either way, I encourage you to try it out.
One last thing about meetings – we are living in a high technology world with a lot of options to meet virtually over an audio or a video bridge. I’m a big fan of meetings over a video bridge – it is way more efficient then emails (and video bridge is a lot more efficient than an audio bridge). However, if you have the option to meet face to face, do it – it is a lot better option to choose. No technology, so far, enables the level of engagement such in face to face meeting.