Jennifer Dennard

How to run a tactical meeting

And why your team should be using them

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If you’re like most teams, some of your team meetings could be a bit more efficient. At its worst, every Zoom call feels irrelevant to you and your work. And even when meetings give you new intel, they can feel like it's just your manager talking about their plan, but not surfacing information from the rest of the team. Considering that meetings are expensive—with multiple teammates on a call for an hour— you don't want to waste that time if the meeting isn't useful.

Some meetings should be shifted to asynchronous communication, but others would benefit from an improved structure. That’s where tactical meetings come in.

What is a tactical meeting?

It’s kind of exactly what it sounds like—a very strategic meeting focused on resolving issues by inviting all attendees to engage and share.

How is a tactical meeting different from other meetings?

Instead of one person running a meeting, sharing what everyone else will be working on, the meeting is distributed to the entire team.

For example, instead of a leader setting an agenda in advance, the team plans the agenda for the meeting during each meeting session.

Tactical meetings ensure that everyone has that space and time to bring up issues or to bring up things that they want to talk about with the rest of the team. It's not just about leadership trying to drive the meeting for themselves or to have a very top down approach.

How do you run a tactical meeting?

Opening Rounds

Each meeting starts with an opening round, sometimes called a check-in, where each teammate shares how they’re doing. It essentially forces everyone to say something. Which I know force is a strong word, but studies have shown that if somebody says something in the meeting, especially at the beginning, it's much more likely that they'll say something later in the meeting or they'll bring up some issue that they may be having, which is what the tactical meeting is all about.

Distributed Agenda

After that, the team sets up an agenda for the meeting together, quickly collecting a list of topics to go through. Then, the team goes through each item and identifies the quickest way to resolve each one. It’s about getting things done quickly, not endless talking. For example, an agenda item might be an announcement like “FYI, we're doing research this week. Please join the research channel on Slack, where I'll be posting Zoom links for each of our research sessions.”

Or it could be an issue like "Hey, we're getting a lot of inquiries from other teams about this slider component. They're saying that it's inaccessible for users with screen readers. What do people think about that and how can we get to a point of resolving that?" It’s a good topic because it impacts several different teams. There might be some discussion in the meeting, and an action item might be for someone to come up with a plan for next steps or even to schedule a different, smaller meeting with the right people.

Facilitator

It’s important for each meeting has a facilitator—someone who is *not* the leader who runs the meeting. The goal is for someone to have the role of keeping everyone on track, including managers or team leads. They ensure that topics move towards a resolution or next step without taking the entire meeting. It can be hard to ask a leader to stop discussing a topic, but you're trying to create space for everyone to have their ideas heard. So it's important to call them out when they are overstepping their bounds.

There are good facilitators and bad facilitators. It's not an easy role by any means. A good facilitator is someone who not only actively listens, but also is good at summarizing what's happened. So in the discussion above about the slider, a facilitator would say, "Okay, it sounds like we have what we need here. Jane,  you’re going to be taking an action item to update the slider documentation based on feedback. Does that resolve that tension?" They drive the conversations, and politely but quickly interject when needed to instruct attendees with something like , "We have what we need here. Let's move on to the next topic." Some people like to talk, but the facilitator should feel comfortable stopping them.

What is the value of a tactical meeting vs. other kinds of meetings?

Tactical meetings ensure that everyone has that space and time to bring up issues or topics that they want to talk about with the rest of the team.. It's a much more bottom up distributed approach, which helps surface unspoken or role specific  issues.

Tactical meetings are also extremely efficient without being cold. The opening round ensures that there’s a moment to connect, and the facilitated agenda helps move quickly towards action without the rambling discussion or chaos that can ensue in some team meetings.

Teams often use tactical meetings for their weekly touch points to supplement other meetings they have. One note of caution is that tacticals don’t replace sprint planning or backlog grooming.

When would you recommend tactical meetings?

If you're sitting in a meeting and you're thinking, I have issues that are not getting resolved here, or I don't feel like my voice is being heard, as an individual contributor, I think that is a great time to try to introduce it. As a leader, if you feel like you're not getting feedback from people or you feel like people are not speaking up in meetings, or saying what they really think in meetings, that's a great time as well to be tactical. Andlso, it’s a good idea if you feel like meetings are dragging on or not staying on topic very well.

What advice would you have for someone trying a tactical meeting for the first time?

It's super helpful to have somebody in that room who understands what a tactical meeting is and has been through them. I’d suggest doing some research and sit in on a tactical meeting before running one yourself. I've had people come sit in on a meeting that I've run from other teams, just to see it in action and then bring tactical back to their own teams.

And then, consider the learning curve and that you’ll be educating your team. Take time early on to explain why you’re stopping a discussion or why you’re doing something as the facilitator. That way everyone understands and can help in the future.

Also, have some patience. Give it a try. Heck, give it two tries. It may not work the first time, especially if everyone is new to a tactical format. It's going to make people feel weird at first and that’s okay. What you don’t want is for people to feel angry. It may make them feel  slightly uncomfortable. But by the end of the meeting, they should come away thinking it was worthwhile and that it actually helped. As a manager or as a leader, you have to put yourself into that head space of “the person that I manage is going to be cutting me off but they need to so they can facilitate this conversation.” You have to not allow that to affect the way you think about them in a negative way.”

Why use Range for your meeting?

Many teams start off using a Google Doc or other document to track recurring meetings. This may work temporarily but it quickly gets annoying and unruly. It can be difficult to follow, and as more and more meetings pile up in that same document, the document starts to break. Suddenly, you’re splitting it into multiple documents, which makes it harder to find or search for things you need.

Range Meetings were designed specifically for the tactical meeting format. The notes feature allows the team to track what was discussed, topic by topic. If someone misses a meeting, they can easily see notes in Slack, email, or Range to get caught up. A bonus is that weeks after a meeting when you say, "Oh, I thought we had a discussion about this." You can go back to the notes and look over what people were talking about.

Plus, actions from Meetings connect with Check-Ins, allowing teams to hold each other accountable and move work forward.

A final note

Tactical meetings might seem simple—joint agendas and quick resolution. But the magic of incorporating the team into the agenda-setting process can’t be understated. At Range, it’s changed the course of projects, teams, and at times, even the company. It means we all get to be a part of the journey of deciding what gets done, not just one leader or one team.


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