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Meeting best practices (including remote staff)

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Planning a meeting[edit]

Understand the reason for the meeting[edit]

  • Meetings can share information, solve problems, or make decisions
    • Generally, each meeting should only do one of these functions at a time

Have an agenda[edit]

  • Include the agenda in the invitation
  • State the purpose and/or desired outcomes
  • Choose a meeting format based on the purpose
    • e.g. "Go-around" (where everyone speaks), vs. Presentation vs. Discussion
  • Estimate the time each agenda item might take
  • For longer non-recurring meetings, consider building in a very brief (e.g. 5 minute) in-meeting retrospective
    • Was the meeting effective? How could it have been better?

Invite the right people[edit]

  • Require key stakeholders
  • Use "optional" where appropriate
  • A meeting that is generating ideas or collecting information can proceed even if missing some key people; a meeting that shares information or makes decisions cannot.
  • Choose the meeting duration
    • [Need guidance here]

Scheduling a meeting[edit]

See: https://office.wikimedia.org/wiki/Scheduling_tips

Timing that accommodates everyone[edit]

  • Use the Google Calendar "Speedy Meetings" option
    • Half-hour meetings end after 25 minutes
    • Longer meetings end 10 minutes early (or five minutes if the start time was 5 minutes after the half-hour)
  • Choose the meeting day and time
    • Use the "Find a Time" feature in Google calendar
    • Be VERY aware of time zones
      • Encourage everyone to use the Google calendar feature to warn about creating meetings outside your working day
    • Also be aware of daylight savings differences

Leverage Google Calendar[edit]

  • Make the meeting editable by all attendees (checkbox in Google calendar)
  • Reserve a room if necessary
    • Appropriate size (not too big, not too small)
    • With screen/camera/speakerphone if needed
    • One person often doesn't need a room--can use ad-hoc space
  • Engineering admins are available to help
    • Can schedule the meeting, negotiating availability of people and rooms
    • Give them all the information they need to create the invitations
      • Meeting title, who to invite (required/optional), duration (specify that you want "speedy"), preferred dates/times, brief description including links to agenda and/or minutes
      • Ask them to make the meeting editable by all attendees

Before the meeting[edit]

Prepare schedule and note-taking[edit]

  • Figure out a consistently good time for all members of the team (e.g., PT mornings to include Europeans)
    • Or if there is no consistently good time, try rotating times so everyone gets to share the pain of being on super-late or super-early
  • Attach a Google Hangout to all meetings regardless of whether you know someone will be remote, you never know who will work from home
  • Set up note-taking
    • Public notes should generally be published on wikimedia.org, but synchronous collaborative note-taking requires etherpad or Google docs. Decide which to use and how and when you will publish the notes.
    • Include a link to the notes (minutes) in the invitation
    • Put the date and a word or two of team name and purpose in the document title
    • Create an etherpad or google doc, which serves as both Agenda and Minutes
    • Note that etherpad is PUBLIC and anything entered CANNOT be fully erased
    • If a google doc, share it ("Can Edit") with whoever is appropriate
      • For non-sensitive topics, sharing with WMF is usually fine
      • For sensitive topics, share only with the attendees

Team Practices Group standards for sensitivity and publication[edit]

  • Decide the sensitivity at the beginning of the meeting:
    • Certainly non-sensitive
      • take notes in a new etherpad
      • Notetaker moves them to Wikimedia.org ASAP after meeting.
    • Possibly sensitive
      • Take notes in Google Doc
      • Notetaker emails all meeting participants after meeting with deadline (1-2 days) for people to either review and redact notes, or ask for more time.
      • After deadline has passed, notetaker publishes notes to Wikimedia.org.
    • Not for publication
      • take notes in Google Doc
      • save Google Doc to team's meetings folder in Google Drive

Prepare materials and agenda[edit]

  • Before heading to the meeting, remind yourself of the purpose and agenda
  • Prepare any necessary materials (e.g. slides, images)
  • Be aware of any major political or interpersonal issues that might arise

Starting a meeting[edit]

  • If in a room, arrive at least 5 minutes early
    • If the room is still occupied 5 minutes before the meeting, let them know you will need the room soon
      • And consider evangelizing "speedy meetings" to the organizer (later)
  • Start the video call before the official meeting start time
    • If the video call won't start, try the other browser (Firefox vs. Chrome)
      • Sometimes rebooting also helps
    • Explicitly set the speakers/microphone (sometimes it is automatic, sometimes not)
      • Click the Gear in the hangout, and set speakers and mic to the specific device (e.g. Chat-150 or Jabra)
  • Open the chat panel (by clicking the icon at the top of the left sidebar)
  • If the keyboard/mouse batteries are low, email techsupport@wikimedia.org

Attending a meeting[edit]

If remote[edit]

  • Use a headset
  • Choose a quiet environment
  • Choose a non-distracting background view
    • If at home, make sure others know if they might be on camera
  • Consider muting whenever possible
  • If bandwidth is poor, reduce video quality
    • Click on the 5-bars icon at the top of the hangout
  • Open the chat panel (by clicking on the icon at the top of the left sidebar)
    • If you type something important into the chat panel, make sure someone noticed it

If in the office but not using A/V equipment[edit]

  • Use a headset
  • Don't have the call at your desk--move to ad-hoc meeting space
  • Always speak slowly and clearly
    • Language barriers, poor audio, or both, can be a problem
  • Don't dominate the conversation
    • Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • Speak up when you have something relevant to say
  • Stay focused on the meeting (minimize emails/IRC)

Facilitating a meeting[edit]

  • Start the actual meeting on time "as a courtesy to those who were punctual"
    • If key stakeholders are missing, decide whether to proceed or reschedule
  • Remind everyone of the purpose, and quickly review the agenda
  • Use the Google Hangout chat feature in case there are connectivity issues so that the room sees it
    • Use IRC as a fallback.
  • For recurring meetings, start with any issues left over from the previous meeting
  • Be especially aware of when remoties want to speak
  • Try to keep the meeting in good order
    • If more than one person is speaking at once, most audio channels get fuzzed and the end result is the remote person can't hear a thing
    • Boldly (but politely) ask if deep discussions and long tangents should be taken outside the meeting
  • Last item in the agenda is dedicated to planning the next date/time.
  • Take a log of what has been decided for each item and who is in charge (kind of an action list)
    • Send that log to participants and let them review it
    • After it has been reviewed, diffuse to other non-participants
  • Stick to the agenda


Make sure someone is taking notes[edit]

  • In some cases, "everyone" can share note-taking, but the facilitator still needs to monitor
  • One person taking notes is usually better
    • Can be the facilitator, or rotating attendee, but whoever takes notes will be distracted
    • For recurring meetings, don't make the same attendee take notes every time
    • For important meetings that require intensive facilitation, consider bringing someone in just to take notes
  • If using etherpad, don't enter anything that is private
    • Security vulnerabilities
    • Vacation/travel schedules, health stuff, family details
    • Passwords
  • If notes will be copied to wiki later, enter them in wiki format to start with
    • == and === and ==== surrounding headings
    • * and ** and *** for bullets
  • Write any dates unambiguously. Use ISO 8601 format YYYY-MM-DD.

Take a log of what has been decided[edit]

...for each item and who is in charge (kind of an action list)

  • Send that log to participants and let them review it
  • After it has been reviewed, diffuse to other non-participants

Ending a meeting[edit]

  • Start to wrap up a few minutes before the official end
    • For a speedy meeting, remember the earlier end time
  • Summarize key decisions and next steps
    • Do not let the summary turn back into a discussion
    • Agree on who will post the notes, and in what form
    • Have a plan for any open items with no clear next steps
  • End the meeting on time (or early)
    • Don't let the meeting expand just to fill available time
    • Ending early is a Good Thing™, as long as the agenda was covered
    • If appropriate, offer to set up a follow-up meeting to continue the conversation

After the meeting[edit]

  • Copy meeting notes to a wiki page
    • If in doubt, get permission from attendees first
    • Scan for anything that should NOT become public information
    • Circulate a link to attendees
  • Make sure people follow up on their action items
  • If a recurring meeting, set up the next meeting's notes
    • So people can immediately start adding to the next agenda

Additional thoughts[edit]

  • Remote people like the staff mailing list. It helps them keep connected to the life of the office, and it's easier for them to contribute using channels that are asynchronous.
  • Remote people like it when San Francisco people hang out on IRC. It helps them feel connected socially and casually
  • Be deliberately, explicitly nicer in text (e.g. smileys), because people will default to a non-nice reading of your text
  • If it's urgent, call your colleague on the phone. (And other items from this list.)
  • Meeting creator in charge of policing participants:
    • make sure people speak one after the other
    • agenda is respected
    • each item is allocated its amount of time
    • meeting end on time...
  • the shorter the meeting (less than 1 hour) the better. People start losing attention after 40 minutes or so

Summary/detailed-style notetaking[edit]

main article: Good_meetings

One notetaking format that can work for large discussions is:

  • split screens
  • left screen shows summary of meeting key issues
    • try to create NPOV summary of the discussion
    • one tactic that seems to work: reframing discussion as questions to be answered and/or unasked questions that were implicitly answered
    • keep it to one screen
  • right screen shows more detailed transcript

More details can be found in the "Note taking" section of the [Good meetings] page


See also[edit]