Tired of bad meetings? Design a better one

Kimber Lockhart, CTO of One Medical Group, on how you can intentionally design team meetings to encourage behaviors you want to see

When people talk about meetings, it’s often with a tinge of annoyance or outright defiance. “Do we really need an hour for that?” 🙄

Meetings are seen as a drag on productive time, an interruption to flow, and a general nuisance. But, if you’ve been in a well-run meeting, you know the feeling of alignment and collaboration that can happen.

And when it comes to coordinating multiple teams, sharing context across people, and keeping a whole department on track, team meetings are indispensable.

But how do you design a meeting for your team that empowers shared context, accountability, and alignment?

We sat down with Kimber Lockhart, CTO of One Medical, to learn how she and the team at One Medical design their meetings to do just that.

“A lot of engineers will state ‘I don’t like meetings,’ and understandably so. This is because they’ve been exposed to a bad or poorly-designed meetings process, not a process that facilitates them getting done what they need to get done.”

Let your purpose guide your structure

The first step to having an effective team meeting is to identify a clear purpose or what you’re looking to achieve with the team meeting. For example, you may be trying to build alignment by sharing context across teams. You may be looking to create accountability on goals or OKRs by having an in-person check-in. Or your focus may be building trust and connection on the team. (If you can’t identify a purpose, you may want to re-think whether you need a meeting in the first place.)

If you’re like most of us, your goal may be all of the above. 😜

Here are a few examples of how purpose can guide your meeting structure with examples from One Medical’s What’s Happening meeting. The purpose of this meeting is exactly what it sounds like: to get everyone who’s involved in a particular project to understand the full context of the work. But the meeting also includes sections to build accountability and celebrate wins on the team.

Sharing context

To share context across teams, it’s helpful to have a section of your meeting dedicated to updates about what’s happening on each team. To make it easier for each team to share, Kimber recommends having a standard structure by which teams share an update.

For example, One Medical uses a simple stoplight system to share project status. That means each team rates its projects using red, yellow, and green where:

This visual system makes it easy for folks in the meeting to understand what’s happening quickly. Each team shares the context behind their rating, including whether they need additional resources or what’s caused the shift in status.

This section is also a time for leaders at One Medical to share context from other parts of the business that might be useful. It’s not company-wide updates—One Medical has a separate meeting for that, but rather, specific learnings or knowledge that would be useful to the team. Leaders also share constructive feedback or “nudges back in a different direction.” By doing this in a team meeting, other teams see and hear this context too, empowering them to make connections and provide support as needed.

Building accountability

To build accountability on your teams, you likely have some system of goal-setting, OKRs, or objectives in place already. After all, you can’t help a team be accountable for what they said they’d do if they didn’t commit to anything in the first place.

With that system, meetings are time to check in on metrics and objectives that the team has. As Kimber put it, this “keeps everyone in the meeting up to date on how the team is actually doing against their OKRs, and it also creates a structure that forces regular updating of those OKRs.”

Again, having a simple structure for this section is helpful. One Medical does a quick review of each team’s metrics and goals, and then moves directly into project updates. That way discussion is focused on the work that supports those metrics and goals.

Beyond context and accountability

These are two examples of primary goals you might have for your meeting, but it doesn’t stop there. If you want your meeting to do x, y, or z: then the structure should include a section on each of those. For example, if you want to celebrate wins, add a section at the end for recognizing the top moments this week. As simple as that advice sounds, you’d be surprised how much meetings can improve simply by aligning sections of the meeting with the goals for the meeting.

As you think about your structure, consider what it encourages the team to do. Kimber says,

“We do a lot of the designing of the meeting format in order to make it hard to do behaviors other than the ones we want to see.”

For example, if you want all functions on a team (e.g., product, engineering and design) to share the responsibility for the team’s success, then you should have consistent sections in the meeting where each function has a voice. Leaving all the updates to just one leader signals that that function has a higher responsibility for the team’s outcomes.

Another example is if you want the team to value continuous improvement, asking each week what they learned or implemented based on their last retrospective is a great way to create accountability for those retrospectives to actually occur.

Write your structure down

Once you have a structure in place for your meeting, the next step is to write it down. This helps the team be accountable to the structure, and it also helps explain things to the current and future team members.

Kimber shared “Documenting the meeting goals and structure is simple, but we didn’t do it for a long time. Without this documentation, new hires often didn’t understand what they could expect and what purpose each meeting filled. We made a lot of progress by writing it down.”

Writing it down doesn’t mean you need to write a grand opus, just a simple document with the meeting name, the time it’s scheduled, the people involved, and why you do it.

Even better—write down the structure of the meeting itself. One Medical uses a slide deck to ensure that the structure is maintained each week. Each team takes the slide format, edits it that week, and adds it back into the deck. That way, each team gives a similar update, and leaders can ensure that certain points are always covered (e.g., OKRs) and that every team gives a similar update,

Iterate

Because your team is constantly changing and shifting as your company scales, meetings will also need to change. Who attends them, the structure, the time allotted—all of it may shift. And that’s okay.

“At any given time one of your meetings is breaking. What I think about is what meetings need to be resolved before the break, and which ones can be fixed after they break.”

For example, as a meeting gets too large, it may be okay to let it hit the breaking point before resolving it if you’re still getting some value out of it. Having 18 people in a room is often too many, but it may still be the best solution for the moment.

In other cases, you may need to fix impending issues in advance. If your meeting is running too long, for instance, this can mean teams aren’t paying attention or getting engagement on the topics where they need help. That’s a problem and best fixed immediately.

Empower your team

As you’re crafting your meeting, remember that team meetings aren’t about reporting to leaders.

Small meetings of leaders are useful for making decisions, but if your goal is to build shared context or accountability across a team, then the meeting should empower that.

At One Medical, everyone on the team is invited to attend the What’s Happening meeting. That’s right, everyone. Of course, not everyone does attend each week, but having the option available empowers the team to find out the information they need to do their work well.

What’s more, if leaders are unable to attend, the meeting still happens. The meeting itself is what creates accountability and shared context—not leader attendance. It’s always great when leaders can attend, but their presence shouldn’t be required for it to happen.

Good luck!

We’re excited for you as you start to design and re-think some of your meetings. And the team here at Range wants to be your partner along the way. Got a question or just excited about a meeting you’ve designed? Reach out on Twitter or on our website. We’d love to learn from you and support your mission to have great meetings!

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