Tips for effective engineering team meetings

April 6, 2022Yellow Squiggle

Meetings get a bad rap. And to be fair, there are some good reasons for that. Did you know that a study of 19 million meetings revealed that pointless meetings cost U.S. companies $399 billion in 2019? This same study goes on to say that 44% of people report not having enough time to do their work because they spend too much time on poorly organized meetings.

You don’t want to number among those statistics — and we don’t want you to, either. That’s why we’ve prepared this guide. If you’re ready to ramp up your engineering meetings to make them as effective as possible, keep reading.

Engineering meetings: Overcoming challenges as a team when things get technical

Engineering team meetings are designed to bring together everyone who collaborates with the engineering department at your company. So for example, in a software development company, it wouldn’t just be the backend developers or the UI developers attending the meeting. It would be all of the engineers responsible for a given project, plus the engineering manager, project management, and anyone else involved with the project.

These meetings are both necessary and incredibly important for your company. First and foremost, engineering meetings are the perfect check-in opportunity. They’re the chance for everyone to catch up on what else is happening in other parts of the department. For individuals or teams responsible for different aspects of the project, it’s sometimes difficult to see the larger picture. Backend developers might not be fully aware of what UI developers need (or vice versa) in order to get an app up and running, for example.

These meetings are also a good time for team members to bond with each other. It’s a chance for team members to engage in creative conflict, which happens when people feel encouraged to share their views and respectfully debate. It’s the best way to address the challenges that crop up along the way and to come up with solutions that work for everyone.

Fostering a friendly atmosphere of creative conflict at engineering meetings does more than create solutions. It also helps team members feel safe, supported, and heard. This is how you build a team that feels psychologically safe and personally connected — not only to each other, but to their work.

How do you prepare for an engineering meeting?

According to Zippia, organizations spend about 15% of their time on meetings. Surveys indicate that 71% of that time is considered unproductive, which says a lot about the way they’re being utilized in most organizations.

To put these figures into perspective, let’s apply them to your standard 40-hour work week. This means that your average worker spends six hours of their work week — nearly a full day — in meetings, and at least four of those hours accomplish nothing.

All this isn’t to say that meetings are unhelpful, or that you should hold fewer of them. Rather, you need to learn how to make the most of the meetings you do have.

Consider the way you currently run engineering meetings. Here are a few questions to keep in mind as you think:

  • Do you and your teammates come prepared with agenda items to discuss?
  • Do you use the same meeting format every time, or do you change it up to fit the circumstances? For instance, daily standups versus end of sprint meetings.
  • Do you use technology to assist with your meetings? Whether you meet in person, on Zoom, via a Slack channel, or using a host of other apps, the old-fashioned whiteboard may not be the way to go. Digitally displayed visual aids put information into an easy-to-read format that you can share after the meeting. This means that attendees can be more present rather than focused on scribbling down notes.
  • Do you allot enough time for project demos and other important things team members can share to create a bigger picture?

There’s a lot you can do to ensure that meeting time isn’t wasted — it’s all about taking a thoughtful approach to getting the most out of everyone’s time together.

5 tips to get the most out of engineering team meetings

Transforming your engineering team meetings starts with building their effectiveness. Every little bit helps, from assigning a facilitator to keep discussions on track, to a thoughtfully-designed agenda or brainstorm session to inspire collaboration.

Below are some tips that are designed to help you host better meetings — while supporting strong team-building practices to improve your team culture.

1. Prepare an agenda that engages your engineering team

Every great meeting starts with an agenda. Whether you create it from scratch or use a meeting agenda template, there are certain elements you’ll want to be sure to include in order to make sure everyone on your engineering team gets the most out of the meeting.

Of course, there are the basics you would include in any meeting agenda:

  • Date, time, and location (or a link to your virtual meeting room)
  • List of attendees
  • Overview of the meeting’s purpose
  • Outline of topics you plan to discuss, plus time estimates for each so attendees can plan accordingly

However, these are just some of the nitty-gritty details that can help a meeting progress but don’t necessarily make it any more powerful. Now let’s look at a few of the major, most important elements to make your next meeting as effective as possible.

Start with the positives!

This should be obvious, but in many workplaces, it isn’t. Happy workers are better performers. How much better? According to research from Oxford University, happy employees are about 13% more effective.

How does this translate to more effective meetings?

The idea is that when people are happier, they perform better overall — whereas pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Start your meetings on a positive note by celebrating wins. It only takes a few minutes at the start of each meeting to talk about the successes your engineering team has enjoyed since the last meeting.

Those few minutes will set the tone for the rest of the meeting. It will put your attendees in a better mood, which creates a more welcoming and collaborative environment.

Allot time for demos

The bigger the project, the easier it is to lose sight of what the end product needs to look like — and that’s one reason why your meetings should include demos.

This is doubly important when you have wildly different jobs within your engineering team. For example, if you’re creating a piece of exercise equipment that connects to an app, then you’ll have both app developers and product engineers. It’s helpful for product engineers to see what the app developers are up to — and vice versa.

Aim for two or three demos at each meeting, as it pertains to the subject matter of the rest of the meeting. Demos are a great way for team members to see other facets of the project, and gain perspective from one another.

Discuss priority items

This is another key point to add to your agenda. What are the most pressing parts of the project that need to be discussed? List them out as points on your agenda to make sure each item gets the attention it needs during your meeting. This can include updates from managers, process feedback, new ideas, and so on.

One way to make the most of this section is to create collaborative agendas. In advance of the meeting, send out a quick email asking for the talking points that your team considers to be high priority. Use their responses to build out the list of priority items for the meeting. This is a great way to make sure that everyone’s concerns and priorities are acknowledged.

Review action items

One of the biggest reasons why time spent in meetings is considered “wasted” is because without proper guidance meetings often go astray. The discussion devolves into chitchat or moves off track into topics that would be better discussed at a different time.

This means you have a two-fold goal for each of the agenda items above: promote productive discussion, and keep those discussions confined to the time frames that you allot for them.

But what happens when a demo or a priority item could really use further discussion, even after the time is up? That’s when you (or the designated notetaker) jot the key points down, and then save the discussion for the “review action items” portion of the meeting.

If there are still lingering questions or solutions that need to be ironed out, sometimes it’s best to take things “offline.” Perhaps only a few team members — not everyone — need to get together to brainstorm a solution. Mark this as an action item and flag it for follow-up, and adjourn the meeting. The few team members who need to discuss the issue (or issues) can arrange time to meet separately before the next meeting, and can then bring their solution or roadblocks to the next meeting.

2. Inspire questions and collaboration

Elon Musk has an interesting perspective about effective meetings. According to him, if you’re not adding value to the meeting, you should walk out or get off the call.

While this might not be exactly how you want to handle meetings with your engineering team, there is a certain logic behind Musk’s method: For a meeting to be a good use of time and resources, everyone needs to be engaged. But how can you foster that engagement?

First, make sure the meeting is limited to the people who need to be there. In an engineering meeting, of course that means people from your engineering department. However, if the purpose of the meeting is strictly to discuss your website’s UX, it doesn’t make sense to force your product engineers to sit in. Teammates are much more likely to feel engaged and collaborative when the meeting’s subject matter is relevant to them.

Next, it’s also important to give all attendees a chance to add something to the agenda prior to the meeting. People who have something to add to the meeting have a stake in the course of events. It makes them feel heard, makes them feel comfortable expressing ideas and opinions, and it makes them much more engaged and interested in participating overall.

Finally, make sure that you open the floor for questions periodically. If you wait until the end of the meeting, most people will stay quiet in the interest of ending the meeting sooner. However, simply asking, “Are there any questions?” may not get you very far. As a manager, consider asking more leading questions that will encourage people to speak up, or make connections that encourage collaboration. Here are a few examples:

Inspire questions: “What roadblocks might we run into?”

This is open-ended and invites team members to explore potential issues and ask follow-up questions.

Encourage collaboration: “Cathy works closely on that project — Cathy, what insights do you have?”

Your team members may not always know exactly what their coworkers are working on. As a manager, you are positioned to make these connections, which can invite team members to collaborate who may not think to do so on their own.

3. Keep it interesting by rotating meeting roles

Sometimes routines are a good thing — but sometimes, they can be incredibly dull. Rotating roles is a great way to spice things up a little, plus take a little bit of the burden from your own shoulders.

So, what are some roles you can rotate among attendees?

  • The facilitator: The facilitator’s job is to keep a meeting on track. They have a copy of the agenda, and they make sure that the discussion sticks to it — no sidetracking.
  • The organizer: This is probably you (or whoever the de facto leader of meetings happens to be). As the organizer, you’re responsible for scheduling the meeting, creating and collaborating on the agenda, and sending out the invites.
  • The notetaker: The notetaker takes meeting notes, of course — but it goes a little deeper than that. The notetaker not only creates a brief report detailing the main topics discussed at the meeting (and the conclusions drawn from those discussions), but they also jot down the action items that you or your team members need to take care of before the next meeting.
  • The timekeeper: The timekeeper’s job can often be combined with the facilitator’s job, depending on how busy the facilitator is. The person assigned to this role ensures that each topic doesn’t go over its allotted time limit.
  • The “vibes watcher”: This one comes from author and CEO Elise Keith. You may also recognize the “vibes watcher” as the discussion moderator or facilitator. The person assigned to this role makes sure everyone gets a turn. Their job is to keep an eye on the attendees, and if it looks like a person or topic has been overlooked, they can jump in and safely steer the conversation to the right people or subjects.
  • The attendees: This is everyone else who attends the meeting. While they may not have a role specific to that particular meeting, there is still a set of expectations for them. They need to add their own items to the agenda, read the final agenda prior to attending, and come prepared with demos or notes on topics they wish to discuss.

4. Record key decisions, updates, and next steps

In the section above, we briefly touched on the notetaker’s role. The reality is that the person recording the meeting minutes plays a crucial role in any successful meeting.

Taking notes doesn’t just mean recording the topics that were discussed. It also means recording decisions made and next steps to be taken. This is important because none of us are blessed with perfect memories. Organized notes prevent the inevitable head-scratching that comes with trying to remember “what did we say about that?” that normally happens a few days after the meeting.

Leveraging apps and meeting management tools like Range can help avoid this. Range’s meeting templates make it easy to set up dynamic agendas that encourage discussion, record actions and detailed notes, and share them after the fact via email or Slack.

5. Implement feedback gathered from engineering meetings

It’s good to stick with a similar template from one engineering meeting to the next, because it helps to establish a routine and flow — which helps people settle into a comfortable pattern.

But remember that everything evolves with time, too. As things change, don’t hesitate to adapt your meeting agenda based on feedback that comes in along the way. And for that matter, don’t hesitate to be proactive in gathering that feedback.

An easy way to do this is to add a feedback section to your meeting agenda. This gives people a private place to voice opinions they may not be comfortable sharing during the meeting itself. Listen carefully to the pain points expressed in the feedback section and do what you can to address them so that everyone gets the most possible from your meetings.

Do these tips apply to remote engineering meetings?

Absolutely! In fact, they’re even more important in remote meetings. Over the past couple of years, most of us have spent time on Zoom calls or in Slack meetings while the kids were at home and the family dog was barking. These little interludes can add a lot of levity — but they can also derail discussion.

That’s not to say that you or your meeting’s facilitator should refuse to acknowledge the things that happen in the background of remote meetings. After all, there is nothing wrong with having a laugh at work from time to time. But with these tips, you can be sure that your team gets back on track after these moments, which keeps the meeting effective despite the distractions.

Another issue with remote meetings is that it’s even easier for people to be accidentally left out of the discussion, or for people to zone out and avoid participating. Assigning active roles helps boost engagement, and having a moderator can help you ensure that everyone gets their turn.

With all their nuances, remote meetings practically beg for meeting management tools like Range to help keep things on track. From simplifying agenda creation to making meetings more consistent and effective, Range streamlines these processes to make remote meetings just as effective as in-person meetings.

Effective engineering meetings build stronger teams

Engineers are busy, and their jobs are important. Your engineering team meetings should have one goal: be as effective as possible so that everyone can get back to their work as quickly as possible. Succeeding in this mission requires collaboration from everyone involved, but better-organized meetings can help build teams that function as a well-oiled unit — making you stronger together.

Range can help you on your journey to more effective meetings. Our platform allows you to create an agenda with your team’s help, then use that agenda to empower meaningful discussion. Find out how Range can help make your engineering team’s next meeting more effective today.

Better teamwork, fewer meetings

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Tips for effective engineering team meetings
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