Should I call for a meeting?

Illustrations of cats meeting

When should we work alone and when should we create with others (i.e. “have meetings”)? Working together is a key ingredient in my design processes. But I also do a lot of work on my own.

Choosing when to “go it alone” versus involving others is something I still struggle with. However, this deceptively simple system helps me choose: Understand what outcome I want. Consider who else to involve (if anyone). Choose a method.

5 or more people – “town-hall meetings”

Town-halls is one way to get a big group “on the same track”. However, it requires discipline and preparation because it is a costly activity.

Some possible outcomes:

  • We have celebrated our accomplishments.
  • We have learned from each other’s successes and failures.
  • We know what other individuals and groups are working on.

Some methods:

  • Get present. When coming to a big group meeting it’s easy to not have full focus and continue to think about other things. Start the meeting with an activity that invite everyone in the room to become present.
  • Be prepared. Encourage those who give updates/speeches to know what they are going to say. It’s more efficient and it helps people be more engaging!
  • Clarifying questions. Let the audience ask questions that help them understand what the speaker said. However: this should not turn into a dialog – dialogs should happen in a smaller group.
  • Reaction round. Does the speaker need input from everyone? Let each person in the room react to the proposal/idea/etc. Everyone else in the room must stay silent. After the round the speaker may share their thoughts based on the reaction from the group. The reaction round gives everyone (rather tan just the “strong” people in the room) a possibility to talk while limiting the amount of time needed.

Me + 1–3 persons – collaboration and co-creation

In group work we need to use energy to understand what others are saying. We also need to limit ourselves by adjusting to the people in the room – we should follow social codes such as letting others speak, follow the thread, etc. But if we collaborate we will benefit from the perspectives and knowledge of others.

Some possible outcomes:

  • We have lots of ideas.
  • We have chosen what to work on.

Some methods:

  • Individual first, group second. Start group exercises by letting people think on their own for a few minutes. Getting my own ideas or priorities on paper helps me to not forget them as we start talking as a group.
  • Brainstorm for real. Follow the guidelines for brainstorming – the most important of which is to defer judgement until after the brainstorm is over. A brainstorm is for generating lots of ideas, not for critique.
  • Vote. It is valuable for the debate to see how the group, as a whole, values the options you choose among. A hidden vote complements a debate because it does not rely on people being skilled orators.

1 person – just me

On my own I can find a balance between intensely focused work and periods of synthesising.

Some possible outcomes:

  • I have considered all edge cases and details.
  • I have synthesised what I know into a system.
  • I have done the practical work.

Some methods:

  • A customer journey map. Our product is always used over time and in a specific context. I use my knowledge of the end users to plot all (important) points of that journey.
  • X implies Y. If we want a commenting system, what does that imply? Will there be picture upload or “just” text? Pictures! What would picture uploading imply? Dick pix! Do we want to moderate them? Yeah… What would moderation imply? And so on…
  • 5 versions. I often force myself to come up with lots of different solutions to a problem. It’s an old design school technique and really works for me.
  • Shower and sleep. I often say that designing a non-trivial system takes a few weeks. That’s not active time though. I need to mull over what I have learned – have long thoughts about it. Only when combining active and passive time will the system appear to me.

How is your “meeting culture”? Would you like an outside perspective to help your team have better meetings? Let’s talk.

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