Sugar Labs/Running good meetings

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These notes was posted as a first braindump by User:Mchua to explain how she run meetings. I'm adding them on the wiki because I think they can be really useful to team leaders. -- Marcopg

0. Make it really easy to take/manage meeting notes. See http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Community_testing_meetings for an example - Skierpage was awesome and made the "How to add a meeting" button + semantic mediawiki stuff, which pulls from this template: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Template:New_community_testing_meeting (But for the really cool stuff, check out the source on for http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Community_testing_meetings#Meeting_minutes for SMW-fu).

Basically, I asked Skierpage to help me make a system that I would *not* be too lazy to use. ;) See http://lists.laptop.org/pipermail/wiki-gang/2008-October/000059.html for this discussion.

1. Have a draft agenda on a wiki page, using the system from #0. Pre-filling the page with a template stub (the "How to add a meeting" button + http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Template:New_community_testing_meeting template) helps a lot to decrease gruntwork. http://wiki.laptop.org/index.php?title=Community_testing_meetings/2008-11-06&oldid=178820 is an example of pre-meeting notes - note that there's one section per agenda item, with short notes arrayed below.

When there's a lot of background information, or when somebody wants to voice their opinion before the meeting, or can't make the meeting and wants to put their thoughts forth for consideration, link to it. For example: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Community_testing_meetings/2008-11-06/Prioritizing_activities_to_test

2. Send out reminder emails about the meeting - mention it (with a link to the draft agenda) when you send out the minutes from the previous meeting, and send a reminder the day before or the day of the meeting itself (also with the draft agenda link).

3. Invite people personally to the meeting over email, in IRC, when you see them... anything. Try to bring up specific things that they might be interested in, or that you would like them to come talk about. "Hey Mel, we're going to talk about cheese - I remember you were telling me about this wonderful cheddar that you had last week and thought you might enjoy coming and speaking about that..."

4. Remind people to come to the meeting right before it starts. You'll see me poking my head into offices, walking by people's desks, or at the very least sitting at mine and suddenly hollering "Hey guys! Community test meeting in 5 minutes in the #olpc-meeting channel!"

5. As people file into the meeting room, greet and welcome them and thank them for coming in a bit early / on time. This is important! It confirms to them that there's a meeting on, gives you a good sense of who's present (for a virtual meeting), and makes it clear that being on time is Awesome.

6. A minute or so before the meeting starts, look around and say something like "it's almost time to start, is everybody ready?" to remind people that the actual get-down-to-business time is coming up.

During the meeting:

7. Begin the meeting. (Meetbot command: #startmeeting) This should be *exactly* on time, if at all humanly possible, and it should be incredibly obvious to everyone that the meeting has started. Pound a gavel, wave your arms, say "Time to focus!" or "The meeting has started!" or... well, I'm sure you can think of wittier things to say.

8. Thank everyone for coming, again.

9. If you haven't taken attendance some other way, ask for a roll call or otherwise figure out who's present, who's lurking, who's doing something else but can be poked to chime in on something (remember, when you call on them, that it usually takes them a couple minutes to realize you're trying to get their attention, so if you can tell them "your topic is coming up soon" a few minutes in advance, you usually get better results.)

Ideally, though, the vast majority of your attendees will be present and focused on the meeting and only on the meeting. (If this isn't the case, try to figure out how you can work things out for the next meeting so that they are. Meetings with everyone half-present tend to drag on and be painful because nobody's really thinking.)

10. Post the link to the draft agenda, and then post the abbreviated version of the agenda - I copy-paste the Table of Contents from the wiki agenda page. Again, see http://wiki.laptop.org/index.php?title=Community_testing_meetings/2008-11-06&oldid=178820 as an example.

Note that last-minute rearranging of the agenda wiki page before sending this link is totally okay. ;) I mean, it's not ideal. But it's okay. (Although this could also be my excuse for doing this All The Time.)

11. Ask for comments on the agenda or any last-minute decisions. This is important because once you lock in the agenda, you want to stick to it.

12. Phrase your questions with default answers whenever you can - for instance, instead of "Any additions to the agenda?" say "Any additions to the agenda? If not, we'll start with the first item, which is: What Type Of Cheese Should We Get For Tomorrow's Fondue?"

13. If your questions don't get answered within 20-40 seconds, say something like "Anybody?" or "I'll take that response as a yes," or "All right, moving on..." or some other "I am warning you that we are making a transition to a different topic!" phrase, wait a few more seconds, and then switch topics. (To your first agenda item. Remember, you're going through *only* your agenda items. This is absolutely firm. Ideally you'll go through them in order, though this is not so firm.)

14. Discuss the agenda item at hand, and only the agenda item at hand. If people drift off topic, but what they say is close enough that it can be re-steered into the conversation, say something like "That's a great point, how can we apply it to Thursday's fondue cheese selection (or whatever the topic is)?" Find some way to gently re-fold it into the conversation topic.

If the point they bring up can be folded into a later agenda item, tell them to bring it up when that agenda item comes up. "We're going to talk about chocolate in a few minutes, would you mind bringing this up again then?"

If their point can't be folded into any agenda item but is on-topic for that kind of meeting, ask if they would like to lead a discussion on that during the next meeting, and then tell them to put it as an agenda item, led by them, on the next meeting's draft agenda. "Actually, that would be a great thing to talk about at our next meeting. Do you think you could lead a discussion on that next week? You can? Thanks! Can you put it on next week's meeting agenda wikipage, and put your name there so I remember that you'll be leading that discussion? The link is..."

If their point is totally off topic for the meeting or the group, tell them so; if you can, point them towards the proper venue for it. "Actually, salad selection is outside the domain of the fondue group, but the Appetizers Committee is meeting on Friday, and Marco runs that meeting; you should ask him if you can talk about it then."

15. #14 relies mainly on one thing - that at any given time, it should be clear what the agenda item/topic is. Give reminders occasionally if needed. Reference back to the notes on the draft wiki page. That's why you put them there beforehand - in addition to being useful pre-reading, they also give you things to use to steer the conversation back on topic. "Actually, let's look at what Marco said earlier about Muenster cheese - if you read this email that he wrote, you'll see that..."

16. Oh, yes. If new people come in, welcome them, thank them for coming, send them the agenda, and tell them what agenda item you're discussing. "Hi, Mel! Glad you could make it. The agenda is at... and we're talking about item 5, 'should we have bread or crackers?' right now."

17. It helps to have commonly-accessed URLs (where you can get a meeting transcript, the draft agenda, the previous meeting's minutes, next week's meeting agenda...) in a text document or somewhere else you can rapidly copy-paste them from.

(Ideally, something like meetbot would store those URLs beforehand and then you could call them out as needed, but that feature isn't there yet. Something like "Hi, Mel! Glad you could make it. Here are the logs so far - meetbot: #logs" and then meetbot would spit out the appropriate URL, which you told it beforehand.)

18. If things are too quiet, call on people individually for thoughts and comments. "Greg, do you know if we have any vegans coming to the party who can't eat cheese? Chris, do you know if the bread we're planning on using is vegetarian? Brian, you used to cook for somebody with food allergies - what should we avoid?"

19. If things are too noisy, step back and rephrase them as topics in a linear order, and then go through that order. "Okay, I think we have several conversations going on here - Kim, why don't you talk about why we should use French bread first, and then Frances can make her case for crackers, and then I want to make sure we hear Joe's suggestions on how to slice the vegetables for dipping."