Meeting styles

I, like most people, go to a lot of meetings. I’ve developed a style that I like to use when running meetings but I realize that I can always get better. I thought I’d put down some of the things that I like and some things that I struggle with and see what you wonderful folks think about them.

Check ins

Years ago I learned from some 3M folks that a social check in at the beginning of a meeting can help the team develop and can help people look forward to the meeting. I always really liked them and so if I run a meeting I always start with one. Typical prompts include:

  • Favorite meal
  • Favorite way to jump into a swimming pool
  • If you were a boat, what kind of boat would you be?
  • a skill you would like to develop

If you’ve got a large group, it’s usually best to go with a binary choice like “raking vs shoveling” or “0 degrees or 100 degrees”. If it’s a smaller group, you can do longer things, but this is where I hit my first stumbling block: some people really think these are a waste of time. In my typical meetings these take about 5 minutes, so I agree it’s a big chunk of time. I enjoy them so much, though, that I always schedule them. My question: how can I be more sensitive to the people who don’t like taking the time?

Agenda changes

I like to make sure that there are opportunities to make changes to the agenda. This starts with posting the agendas early enough to let people think about it. I tend to try for 2 days but I’m not great at it. Then in the meeting I like to make sure people can make changes to the agenda early and with some democratic approaches.

One thing I’ve noticed is that often folks want to just do their new agenda item right then, as opposed to finding room for it in the normal agenda. I’m not sure why this bothers me so much, though I would guess it’s because I’m worried about time.

Action item check in

When I write my agendas I try to go back to my notes to see what action items were assigned at the last meeting. I then put them in the agenda, even if it’s clear to everyone that they’re done. My thinking is that the accountability is always clear and that we can celebrate the things that got done. Of course I’m also making sure things don’t get lost. I try not to do any shaming when someone hasn’t done something, but I like everyone to know what still needs to get done.

The pitfalls here are that the mini reports can really take some unexpected time, but they’re often topical and timely. I think sometimes folks feel like they’re calling people out, so I’d love some thoughts on how to soften that.

If you pair this with sending the agenda out a couple days in advance, I’ve noticed that a lot gets done during those two days. Certainly that’s true for my action items!


This started a while ago for me and now I’m hooked. Before getting to the meat of the agenda, I do the “moments” section. For now I use 4 different moments:

  • Oh Shit
  • How do I
  • Upcoming deadlines
  • This is great

Really I just started with “Oh shit” because that particular group would often have some emergencies come up that the whole group could help with. I’ve found that if people know those are there, they know they can bring up their quick things without having to necessarily add something to the agenda.

Too profane? I had to do “Oh shoot” for one group I was in.

One big drawback is that these can take up some serious time, but my opinion is that if they’re that pressing, they likely need the time. Your thoughts?

Agenda items

Then I get to the meat of the meeting. When I remember, I try to put a time estimate for each. That tends to help the group stay on track, but I know sometimes folks get crabby if the time estimate is clearly too low to get anything decent done.

Some things that bother me about normal agenda items are ones that get the group doing things that aren’t efficient. My favorite pet peeve is group wordsmithing. I used to also dislike group editing, but that to me is much preferrable to wordsmithing. I think it’s better to just make clear the goals of the passage and then to assign someone to write it. I assume that those that like/want to do wordsmithing just want to get it done, but it’s rare that I enjoy the experience. It’s also interesting to see what happens when people with very different typing speeds work on a collaborative document.

Action item round up

I’m terrible at this (though I tend to take decent notes) but I want to try to do a better job at the end of meetings making it clear what has been decided about next steps. Using the “assign to” feature in google docs works great when I’m taking minutes, but I think it’s probably good for everyone to hear what they’ve committed to before the meeting ends.

Set the next agenda

I’m terrible at this. I almost never do it. But I think I’d like to try getting better at it.

Your thoughts?

I’ll admit it: I mostly wanted to try out the wordpress app on my phone now that I have my nexdock so I can treat my phone like a laptop. But this is a topic I’ve wanted to get down for a while, so it was a good excuse.

So, some thoughts? Here are some starters for you:

  • I love going to meetings with you. I just wish that you . . .
  • When I see you’re going to be there, I make up excuses not to go.
  • Here’s some ideas for check ins . . .
  • Here’s some things to avoid with check ins . . .
  • Wait, your phone is powering a laptop?
  • This all feels way too rigid. You need to relax and just let things flow!
  • My meetings are all dominated by “oh shit”. Why do you even bother scheduling anything else?
  • You should have crowdsourced the wordsmithing of this post.
  • I hate action item roundups. I know what I’m supposed to do and I don’t like getting called out.
  • Do your current online meetings change any of this?

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
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2 Responses to Meeting styles

  1. bretbenesh says:

    I don’t have any good solutions, so I am going to just say what I do:
    -Check-ins: I like them, although I try to give them a work-related question (“How did teaching go this week?”). However, I expect them to just talk about whatever they want, which accomplishes the real social goal of the check-in. I guess I am saying that I prefer less structure for the socializing.
    -Agenda Changes: People need to change the agenda before the meeting unless they have a really good reason. I ask my people to do some prep for the meeting (e.g. post to a discussion board), and changing the agenda means that they won’t have thought about the new item prior to the meeting.
    -Action Item Round-Up: I should do this. However, I think that I would ask for reports prior to the meeting, and I would summarize them. I find that I can give a good summary in 20% of the time that most people can. My experience is that people think they need to talk for a while at meetings once they are start talking.
    -Set the next agenda: I schedule time for myself to do this the same day as the meeting that just ended for weekly meetings.

    This was a very helpful post. Thanks!

  2. Rachel S. says:

    I was at a meeting of 20-ish people the other day and I was dreading the check-in, because with that many people it was going to take half an hour and we only had an hour, ugh. And then the genius facilitator put us into breakout rooms of 5 people! We had time to connect pleasantly with a few other people and it only took ten minutes.

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