In my previous companies, I used to be invited to team meetings being one hundred percent confident that I will get bored at some point. Everyone I know already experienced or is still experiencing this, and that brings a question: Can’t we do better?
What is usually happening is that participants often have nothing to report or that are not really interested about what their colleagues are doing — but rather that Team Meetings are often extremely useless ceremonies when one is simply waiting for someone to ask you the same questions again and again.
Why are Team Meeting boring?
Team meeting is too often used as a way to perform reporting and control: they start with some information cascaded from high above, then everyone reports what they have done the last week(s) or month — most of which they have already forgotten by then — and in the very last minute, maybe someone asks a question. Sounds familiar?
We all already experienced it, we all know it, and we all somehow accept it.
There is not much to salvage from these meetings in my opinion. As a team member or leader, you will have a very incomplete view of what the team is working on; the team is not motivated anymore; the team leader is slowly eroding its authority; and on top of everything, the team lost time that should have been productive.
Asking the real question
Let’s step back for a moment.
A big issue in a standard way of doing is that feedback or lessons learnt are never fully capitalized and used. That’s why problem reported during team meetings are in the best cases just a bullet in a mail or in a presentation. Some organization have tools and processes to handle all of this feedback, but at the end of the day, you will always find an excuse to do your things differently.
Feedback or lessons learnt are never fully capitalized and used
Project A is different than Project B, that is not the same product, not the same process, not the same people, customers, organization … excuses are easy to find.
It’s a totally normal human reaction, but to circumvent this Scrum forces the team to hold regular events that have the sole purpose of improving the way we work. There are very often not taken seriously enough by anyone that is just starting Scrum, but they are an essential part of getting better at working together.
Scrum Retrospective are hosted at the end of a sprint, a fixed period of 2–4 weeks, and they usually last one hour. It is recommended to do them on a non-formal tone to allow freedom of speech, and the output is generally an action list of items to “Start”, “Stop“ or “Continues”, that should be tackle before the end of next sprint.
Retrospectives are essential because the team will answer questions like:
- What went wrong in the last sprint?
- What could we do better?
- What was great?
The team will then capitalize on this to address blocking points, to capitalize lessons learnt, and to find solutions to upcoming challenges. Even more critical, the team will share feelings on their work and working environment — the meeting is getting personal, engaging, interesting. This fact only will bring more value in term of team building that any event you could come up with.
Less Control, More Empowerment
How can a standard Team Meeting get inspired by Scrum Retrospective? Start by changing the narrative of the meeting from …
“Bob, could you tell us about the project you are working on?
… to …
“Bob, are you worried that your project could not succeed?
What can we all do about to help you?”
… this will very quickly change the overall approach of your team, the way they see the others and themselves and their productivity and happiness will skyrocket.
Of course, some members will always be more easy talking and more direct about their work and feelings. It really is difficult to open up like this about failures, but also about successes. You will have to cut through the shyness, modesty or humility in order to hit the hard topic and know what and why it all come from.
On the Scrum process, the moderation is performed by a Scrum Master who shares no hierarchical relation with the team. This helps one more time with the freedom of speech but also with a better overview of team dynamic. A professional Scrum Master shall be able to identify during a sprint what is the next hard topic and how to approach it — difficult endeavor for someone too deep in the productive work or too involved in the organization.
How to run a meaningful Team Meeting?
There is no silver bullet here, as it is highly dependent of your setup, but one of the best ways is to rely on small games — such as the one over here. The reasons why they are efficient can be partially found in any good book on Management 3.0 — like this one ;)
So, gather your team, ideally all together in a room — but a video room could work if your team is not collocated. Give a small overview of what happened the last week(s) — stick with bullet points and make it already personal: “Bob manage after hard fights to pass the milestone X for project Y”.
Pick a topic such as reducing cycle time, improving your costs estimation, better work environment or such. Ready some games to cover the said topic and let’s go!
Write everyone says on post-its, put everything up a wall, cluster them, identify actions / lesson learns and leave them up a wall. During the next meeting, access if they were applied or solved. Give it two-three sessions and I guarantee that you will learn more than you can imagine.
You will certainly have less KPIs to show or a shorter presentation or bullet point email, but you will have accomplished what most of the team leader should target: You will have created a team!