How we run meetings
Meetings are a crucial part of how we work together. People outside of the coop have commented that we run meetings well and are surprised how much we manage to get through. We are proud of this and want to keep these practices up.
In the history of the coop, we've never taken a meeting we've organised and run beyond 90 minutes deliberately. Our meetings tend to be half an hour, an hour or ninety minutes. The majority are an hour.
Of course there are situations where using asynchronous methods of communication are more useful. We genuinely try not to have meetings unless important.
When running meeting with external people, they roughly follow this format, even if we don't name what we are doing (e.g. check in, consent to agenda and so on).
Where minutes for meetings go
Minutes for meetings go on Notion.
If we are meeting for a internal group meeting, there is usually a template on there to help start.
External meetings with external people can be minuted a little more ad hoc, but we'd always err on having some record. It helps build the hive mind and is often incredibly valuable.
Talking in rounds
Talking in rounds is part of the sociocratic suite of techniques that we use to run our meetings and decision making at Common Knowledge.
This means taking it in turn to talk one after the other person, without interrupting, cross talking or responding directly. If you have something to respond to someone else, you wait for your turn in the order to do so.
As we are conducting meetings remotely, we put the order up where someone can see it clearly, so they know who is before and after them.
Roles in meetings
We have a few roles in meetings. Usually if there aren't enough people for all roles, people can do a couple of them. Essential is: if people are talking, notes are being made.
The facilitator fcilitates rounds of discussion and manages/adjusts the agenda of the meeting and participation in it. They might be heard to say "Ok, what I'm hearing is..." or "You've been a bit quiet, do you want to come in on this?". Generally their job is to keep the conversation flowing and tease out any tensions as their might be.
Here are some sociocracy meeting facilitation tips.
Someone to advocate for the day's schedule and the remaining agenda items. Their job is to make sure the meeting runs to time - in terms of total length and for individual items on the agenda. They might say "Hey folks we've spent 10 mins on this and lunch is in half an hour, shall we wrap this section soon?". People take various approaches to this, either waiting for their turn in a round and speaking up, or just randomly shouting out when the time is ticking on. It can be the most fun role if delivered right!
Keeps accurate commentary on the discussion as it goes, so we don't forget where we've come from and where we're at.
Editing the meeting minutes so it is easily readable and helpful in future. If it doesn't get done now, it's not going to get done in future. They take notes while the minute-taker is speaking, edit the meeting notes so they make sense when we come back to it (for example potentially summarising the content and key decisions) and process out any meeting outputs that we need to take forwards. For example, adding issues to the backlog in Linear, project cards and documentation.
Structure of meetings
We follow roughly the Sociocratic meeting format. This gives a more complete picture of how we do things.
We start all meeting with a check-in. In a round people share how they are feeling coming into the meeting and what they are bringing to the meeting. This can be either in life outside of work or if they have want to highlight any anxieties or more difficult emotions about the content of the meeting coming up. We've done this in almost every meeting we've ever had internally. It works in setting the emotional tone and allowing people to react to one another in a spirit of solidarity and care.
We wrote a blog post to describe this practice more fully.
Consent to agenda
Meetings usually have an agenda. Sometimes they have a fixed agenda we've honed over time - for example cycle planning. Often someone will have prepared an agenda before the meeting of things to talk about. Someone else may have asynchoronously added items to the agenda ahead of time.
While we like to have some kind of agenda, in a rush, someone can pull this together on the fly. Given the topic of the meeting they can ask what people want to speak about and pull an agenda together.
Usually agenda items will have an amount of time they might take to get through attached to them. For example, 10 minutes to talk about a particular project or issue. It is the job of the Timekeeper to keep these timings as much as possible once they've been consented to.
The facilitator reads the agenda quickly, explains the rough content of each item and the timing, including the intended total duration of the meeting and asks if those in the meeting consent to the agenda.
Normally people do immediately, but sometimes there are changes in the agenda to be made. Sometimes the order of the items can be shuffled, or someone has something they'd like to speak to which is added, or there is a concern that we will not be able to get through an item in the time alloted. These ammendments are folded in and then everyone consents to the content of the meeting. The meeting then proceeds.
Working through the agenda items of the meeting in turn. The roles kick in, with the faciliator keeping things running smoothly and fairly, the minute taker writing down the discussion, the time keeper keeping things on time and the Notion Gardener making things neat.
Sometimes it is useful for the faciliator to "take of their faciliator hat" and give a view as a regular participant in the meeting to an agenda item. It is useful to explicitly say that, so it is clear they are adding their opinion in rather than trying to neutrally faciliate the discussion indifferently in that moment. We trust one another to faciliate in an even handed way when our facilitator hat is on.
At the end of the meeting, we do a round to check-out and share feedback on how we think the meeting went, and if there is anything we’d like to adjust next time. Essentially a short retrospective of meeting.
This is the really secret sauce of improving our meetings over time. It is quite common to hear people say "felt like that bit didn't work" or "can we try this next time" and generally that improvement is taken forward to the next meeting. Sometimes the observation "that was too long" can cause a more effectively planned meeting next time out.
One can also observe emotional dynamics that happened, or simply say you thought it was a good meeting and worthwhile. The Sociocratic meeting guide has good examples of this.