The Fitzii team works mainly out of two offices in the greater Toronto area and there is also a fair amount of remote and flexible working happening. Early on we held monthly all-hands meetings with the intention of getting everyone together, keeping up-to-date, discussing team-wide topics, and helping build stronger relationships. The first few meetings were great – we shared updates, progress and challenges and it helped build understanding of what everyone was working on.
After some months the meetings were becoming less and less valuable and energizing. The updates weren’t relevant to everyone anymore and getting the right level of detail for the various team members was impossible. Then we had a revelation. We were wasting our valuable face-to-face time by focusing on the wrong things! It was time to rethink our monthly meetings and the things we changed have turned them from average to awesome.
There were some issues with doing general updates in our monthly meetings. We had people in the room who had heard the update before, others for whom the updates weren’t relevant, and times where an update led to a conversation that took the meeting off-track. The end result was low meeting engagement and efficiency. We also tended to focus more on the previous week as it was hard to select (or recall) the relevant things to update on from four weeks before.
We realized updates weren’t something which required our precious face-to-face time. So one of the major changes we made was to remove this section from the meetings entirely. Instead, we’ve moved to individual weekly updates that each person posts to our team social media feed (we use Yammer).
One person kicks off with a “what’s happened this week” post and everyone else replies with their own. We’ve been doing this for nine months now and it works extremely well. It saves time, allows for more detail, and the discussion it leads to adds a ton of value.
Another revelation we had was that because we’re not all in the same office, using our face-to-face time together to build stronger relationships would be of much more value than just sharing information.
To help us get to know each other better, and encourage people to bring their “whole selves” to work, we’ve tried a few fun activities:
Based on the Balderdash board game, we prepared a list of questions like: “What is your favorite movie?”, “What were winters like when you were young?” and “You’re on death row. What’s your last meal request?”. One person is the facilitator and asks a few of the questions while the others secretly write down their answers. The facilitator then reads out the answers for each question and everyone has to guess which answer belongs to which team member, and the person with the most answers correct wins. This was a lot of fun, and definitely helped us get to know each other. But why people were so shocked that my favorite movie is Cleopatra, I don’t know.
Ask Me Anything (AMA)
For the Fitzii version of an AMA, one team member is selected to go on the hot seat each meeting. The rest of the team then takes turns asking them anything. Questions have included:
What’s a secret you’ve never told anyone?
If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
What would constitute a perfect day for you?
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
Which six people living or dead would you invite for dinner?
What one thing would you change about working here?
This activity has been an amazing way to build relationships and help everyone bring their whole selves to work. If you’re looking for question ideas, these 36 that were in the press earlier this year are a good starting point.
Agenda and Format
One deceptively simple but effective change we made was to move away from one person controlling the agenda (a source of some power in traditional organizations). Instead we have the grandiosely named, but ridiculously simple “Fancy Agenda Tracker”. This is an Excel sheet containing the date, time and length of the upcoming monthly meetings that is open for anyone to edit. The only fixed items are a quick financial review (10 minutes) and lunch (we take turns to organize). The rest of the agenda is populated by the team based on what’s on their minds or what they have to share. It’s then circulated the week before the meeting and the team gives input on what should be prioritized if there are too many topics for the 2 hours. Here’s a recent example:
Another neat tool we use is the Executive Decision Maker, which is a homemade device built by our lead developer that works like a magic 8-ball. We use this to make lightly contentious decisions and prevent those painful “who wants to go next? … I don’t mind, you go…. No after you, really…” situations.
Attention and Focus
We use tingshas to indicate the start and end of the meeting. These are meant to signal that our focus is on the team and we’re checking self-interest at the door. We read in Reinventing Organizations that some Teal organizations use the tingshas as a mechanism for reflection during a meeting if a participant feels the ground rules are not being respected – they ring the cymbals and everyone pauses to reflect on their contribution to the topic under discussion. We haven’t been following this process, because we haven’t really needed to yet, but it would be interesting to try.
Team members will also often suggest activities to help with mindfulness and meeting engagement. These have included gratitude exercises, quick meditations and activity breaks.
From Average to Awesome
All in all, we’ve found these changes have increased the effectiveness and engagement of our meetings incredibly. Alongside our individual weekly updates, the monthly get-togethers now achieve our goals of having open and vulnerable communication while fostering closer ties between the various individual and functional groups at Fitzii.
Are your team meetings due for a makeover? Here’s hoping that you raise the bar from “average” to “awesome”, and experiment with new ways to maximize your team’s face-to-face time. And if you have some uniquely engaging team meeting practices we’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Cleopatra?! Really? I liked this article a lot as it seems you bring fun to every meeting while still getting work done. Our IMIT meeting is coming up soon and I think it would benefit a lot if we asked the group questions like the ones you have done in a Balderdash format. Thanks for sharing.
I [heart] Fitzii and wish I could be on these meetings – what amazing ideas!
It’s great having fresh ideas for meetings. Thanks for providing an inside look into your world!
Manu Ganji says
Hey Ian, it’s a nice read. Some of the other meeting “tricks” I know are from this book called “Builders of the dawn”. Try it if you can.