As a Team Lead in a fairly talkative organisation, I attend a lot of meetings. However valuable these discussions may be, this presents a couple of challenges for the team.
First is the trust issue. If I spend much of my time away from my desk, then my team-mates can be forgiven for wondering where I am and what I’m doing. As my role is significantly different from that of the individual contributors in the team, I’m keen to build a high level of transparency, so they can trust that I’m doing my best to help them work effectively.
Second is the practical issue of sharing information. There were some incidents recently where I had been in a discussion, but hadn’t shared the outcome of that discussion with the rest of the team, and at times this led to awkward situations that could have been avoided if I had shared the information.
To overcome these challenges, I was keen to find the simplest possible process that would compel me (and anyone else attending meetings) to tell the team about them.
We walk our board
One of the first changes I usually make when joining a team is to switch our stand-up routine from Yesterday-I-Did to Walking the Board. This has the benefit of focusing the discussion on the delivery of value, and the consequence that it discourages team members from talking about all the other things that have happened over the previous 24 hours.
Now, this is a positive consequence if it means that we don’t spend time talking about filling in our timesheets and watching the latest compulsory training video, but it does mean that that people whose roles focus less on delivering increments of value, and more in catalysing the work and bringing ideas together, have very little to report.
Treat meetings as work items
A solution to this dilemma is in front of us: if we want to share information on these meetings, and we only discuss items that are represented on the board, then let’s represent these meetings on the board.
I ran an experiment, and it worked surprisingly well, so I’ve stuck with it. Here is how it works:
Once a day, I look over the coming day, and write a sticky note for each meeting in my calendar. I stick these in the bottom section of our board in the ‘Doing’ column.
As I come out of each meeting, I move the sticky note into our ‘Done’ column.
A side note on implementation details: We use the relative position of notes in our ‘Done’ column to track whether we’ve discussed them at stand-up. Notes on the left (next to the ‘Doing’ column) are recently completed; notes on the right (by the edge of the board) have already been discussed, and represent our completed work.
At stand-up, as we walk the ‘Done’ column, I’ll give a quick summary of the meeting, flagging up any key points that the team should know about; I then move the note to the right-hand side of the column.
When we come to the ‘Doing’ column, I’ll give a quick outline of the meeting, and find out if anyone is interested in attending or wants any points to be made.
Improvements to this process
After a few days of this, it became clear that my memory isn’t always as great as I would like, and I found myself introducing two further practices:
If there are important points for discussion with the team, then I’ll write these on the sticky note so they’re in front of me at stand-up and I have no chance to forget.
If I want a record of the discussion, then I will create a thread in our Slack channel with the key points and decisions. I can then give a quick summary at stand-up and refer the team to my thread.
The clearest consequence of this practice is that by the end of the sprint, the bottom of our board is bristling with sticky notes; it’s inescapable how many meetings are happening.
Another useful consequence is to give us early warnings of forthcoming meetings. We used to have to remember that we had a demo coming up, and raise it as a special topic at stand-up; now there’s a note on the board, and we naturally discuss it when we come to it in the ‘Doing’ column. Likewise, although it makes sense for me to attend many of these meetings myself (I haven’t reached the point of delegating my one-to-ones), some of them are perfect for delegation to another team member, and talking through them at stand-up gives us the opportunity to decide who will go in my place.
Most importantly, I no longer feel I’m flying under the radar, and we haven’t had any more embarrassing incidents of unshared information, so it seems the process is working nicely.