A Culture of Great Meetings [AgileDC workshop]

In this post I cover

  • Why I care about this topic
  • What was covered in this Great Meetings session
  • What I liked about this session
  • Other related thoughts

Why I Care

Everyday I hear the same thing when I ask how my husband’s day was:  Oh very busy; full of meetings.

I reply: Were they useful?  He says: Oh no. Most of them are a waste of time. But we don’t know any better way to share information and make sure everyone is on the same page.

This sad story is repeated over and over throughout many organizations and is no doubt a contributor to our national debt and sluggish economy! I too, want to help fix these dysfunctions and ease the pain experienced daily by so many!

Attendance at the AgileDC session titled ‘A Culture of Great Meetings’, was fantastic. This topic is HOT! The room was packed with standing room only in the back.

Laura Burke (@agilenvironment on twitter) from Rally Software was the facilitator. She had the full meeting agenda up on the wall – written out in advance and legible from a distance.  She said in no uncertain terms: Electronically emailed agendas are simply NOT sufficient to keep a meeting focused!

A Readable Agenda

Great Meetings Agenda


To learn how to better engage Agile teams by practicing techniques that engage the wisdom and experience of your teams.


  1. What are our top contibutors to bad meetings?
  2. How do we open a meeting and why do we do it that way?
  3. What are some safe ways to address challenges in meetings?
  4. How do you hold a quick retrospective and why are they critical to meetings?
  5. Why do I care so much about your meetings?
Great Meetings Communicate these types of things well!

Great Meetings – Part 2

What was Covered

First Laura had everyone take stickies and write down ideas about what contributes to bad meetings. Each group put up their stickies on wall.  Each group then dot-voted on the ideas. Most of the groups generated a dozen or more and all included some variant of the following:

  • No Set Agenda
  • Inattentiveness
  • Dominating Talker

Next, Laura asked us to come up with safe ways that we might address each of the two issues that we had voted on. So we had another round of ideas to solve these issues. She used the ‘pass the pen’ technique: each person in the group takes the pen and writes his or her idea on the big poster sized sticky.  One idea for creating safe and effective meetings was the Lean Coffee technique.

She had the groups tour around the room to observe the work and ideas of the other groups. This did not work very well as there was really no room to move easily. Each group also shared verbally their top two ideas.

Laura talked a little about the Groan Zone. Every one knows what this is – when people roll their eyes in meetings, when people stop paying attention, when action and movement on making decisions is side tracked, when debates go on and on.

As Laura progressed through each part of the meeting, she referred back to the agenda, ticking off the progress we were making.  Soon, we only had 5 minutes left for the retrospective. She had us write more ideas on stickies:

  • What I liked (about the session)
  • What I wished (for the meeting to make it better)
  • What If…(some crazy idea)

The last two sounded similar at first, but some people were clever and used the What If to show contrast. For example, What If this session had been conducted by Powerpoint? Now that was some good meta-level thinking about experiential learning – thank you Alexei Zheglov (@az1 on Twitter)!

Laura posted all this feedback at the back door so people could take a look after the session.  I’m sure everyone was thinking: Wow – I could use this to gauge the effectiveness of my own meetings!

Laura Burke is an experienced facilitator from Rally Software. She walked the talk, using the very techniques to conduct the meeting/session that she was attempting to teach us.

After the retrospective Laura shared her background with us and told us how she came to love facilitation. She had studied Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies!  I was not suprised to learn that Laura’s mentor is Jean Tabaka (author of the book Collaboration Explained) of Rally Software. Jean Tabaka is one of the people included in the Who Is Agile book I have been editing and I have long thought of her as my mentor too – even though we have never met.  What fascinating ladies with such interesting backgrounds!

What I liked

  • Hands on participation, adequate supplies.
  • The room was setup beautifully, including the colorful agenda.
  • Slides were used minimally and were creative.
  • The text on the slides could be seen from the back of the room (this is often not the case)
  • The preparation and care for the participant experience could be felt. People were told that if they did not find the meeting useful, they could leave at any time.

What I wished had been better:

  • The space was sized to the audience (or vice-versa)
  • The session time was a little longer to allow for more questions and answers
  • The facilitator should always repeat the questions or contributions when the participants do not project their voices adequately A handout might have been provided for futher information and resources such as books, blogs and techniques
  • The facilitator did not have to stand in the projection path to the big screen.

What If?

What if people interested in this session could have also learned about the Core Commitments and Protocols?

These topics are compatible and complementary!  This year’s Great Meetings session was so much in much demand that I think an intro to other techniques would have been welcomed by the attendees.

[Disclaimer, I proposed a session on Jim and Michele McCarthy’s work with Core Protocols, but it didn’t make it this year; I will try again next year and/or invite Vickie Gray to do it with me! Vickie Gray has a great book called Creating Time which explains the protocols in an entertaining way! ]

We all want better work experiences and more individual and team engagement. There are solutions. Let’s publish them, promote them, train them and create better work places.

Thank you AgileDC, Rally Software and Laura Burke for a great session!!!

Please add your own insights if you attended and feel feel to comment on this post!

Explore posts in the same categories: Conference, Effective Meetings, Teams

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