How To Run Effective Meetings - The Holacracy Way
There is a lot of comfort in knowing your way of running meetings is actually effective. Comforting because you know people aren’t annoyed by being in a pointless or unfocused meeting, and also because you know something is actually getting accomplished.
Earlier this year, I wrote a post that explained how they run effective meetings over at Buurtzorg. I shared how they make decisions based on their so-called “Solution-Driven Methods of Interaction.”
But there are other methods too.
One such method is practiced at Viisi, a Dutch self-managing mortgage advice company. The firm is organized (and inspired) inspired by Holacracy (check the animation below).
Holacratic-inspired meetings at Viisi
At Viisi, teams (or “circles” in their terminology) hold two types of meetings: tactical meetings and governance meetings. Both types are structured to keep the energy level high and unnecessary discussions to a minimum — the exact opposite of what most people are used to with meetings.
Governance meetings focus mostly on the organization (team structure, etc.), while tactical meetings focus on the actual work of the organization.
This post will focus primarily on the tactical meetings, which typically deal with issues that have come up since the last meeting and then remove obstacles so the work can move forward.
Each team at Viisi conducts its own tactical meetings; they occur whenever the team needs them and are scheduled by the team's secretary. (Each team at Viisi appoints one member as their facilitator and one member as the secretary.)
Importance of effective meetings
During a video interview, Marc-Peter Pijper (a Viisi employee) talks about the importance of conducting effective tactical meetings:
“The structure of our meetings involves very clear steps, with a very clear role for the facilitator who gives people their turn to speak—and can also cut off discussions.
For extraverts who love to talk and take over the proceedings, this can be tough at first because they’re basically forced to hold their tongue.
However, it's a breath of fresh air for introverted people because they are actually given the opportunity and the space to have their say.
With that said, the meeting structure does take some getting used to. We started out by holding weekly tactical meetings, and they turned out to be pretty addictive.
Our team members said that when the quality of meetings is this high, they want them more often.
Many teams now have daily tactical meetings because they are so energizing. It's very output-focused; there’s no waste. Debate is kept to a minimum."
Viisi's tactical meeting format
Viisi's tactical meetings have a clear format with a fixed structure, each led by a team member who has taken on the facilitator role.
The format consists of these 6 clear steps:
1. Check-in round
At first, everyone gets ready for the meeting. Then, the facilitator asks everyone to check in. One person speaks at a time and shares how they are feeling without too much discussion.
2. Checklist review
During this step, recurring actions are reviewed. The facilitator reads a checklist and asks the people responsible for the recurring action to provide a status update, which gives everyone visibility into those actions.
The member responsible for a recurring action can only respond by saying “check” or “no check” to each item for the preceding period. No discussion.
3. Performance review
The performance of the team is reviewed during the third step. Each person assigned a certain metric then highlights their latest data concerning their performance, along with a short explanation.
Clarifying questions are allowed, but discussion is (wisely) avoided.
4. Project update
This step involves project owners sharing a summary of changes since the last meeting. People are encouraged to only share changes that are relevant for others to know. Clarifying questions are allowed, but discussion is again avoided (noticing a trend yet?).
Should anyone feel the need to discuss the project further, they are invited to wait for the “Triage Issues” step to add an item to the agenda.
How To Run Effective Meetings - The Holacracy Way
5. Build agenda
At this fifth step, members start by building an agenda on the fly, based on their own operational issues.
The secretary captures the agenda items. Any participant can add items to the agenda later.
Tom van der Lubbe, one of the co-founders of Viisi, said about this step: "This way of building an agenda keeps energy levels high, as colleagues can exert a direct influence on what is being discussed, without dictating the agenda beforehand, and avoid off-topic discussions that take up all the allotted time. This strong focus on output made us decide to increase the meeting frequency to daily.”
6. Triage issues
After the agenda is complete, the central part of the meeting can then take place, where relevant issues are turned into clear next steps.
The facilitator starts by going through the list of agenda points. Since the goal is to process all agenda items in the allotted time, the time per agenda item is limited.
The purpose of the meeting is not to analyze issues in-depth but rather to quickly triage them and determine the next step to move forward.
This is considered achieved once someone gets to a point where they can move forward with their project following the meeting — a concept also known as “action over perfection.”
Agenda items are then addressed one-by-one. In order to help reach action over perfection, teams are encouraged to follow four sub-steps:
- The facilitator first asks the agenda item owner what they need.
- The agenda item owner then requests any operational need (an action, information, opinions, ideas, advice) from another team member to move forward in their work or shares any information or updates that others in the team need to know.
- The secretary then notes the outcomes and to-do's (typically regarded as the formal output of the meeting).
- Finally, the facilitator asks the agenda item owner if they got what they needed. If yes, the team moves on to the next agenda item. If not, the sub-steps are started from the first step again.
7. Check out
For the final step, the meeting is closed by a reflection round of the meeting. Each person has the option to share a closing reflection about the meeting. And guess what? Discussions are avoided.
Ready to learn more?
If you want to find out more about Viisi's way of working, check out our Corporate Rebels Academy!
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I've been an organisational consultant for 22 years, specialising in meetings.
What I love about your post is that it gives people specific and practical ways to improve their meetings, which is what most people look for when they turn their attention to meetings.
One of the things I've realised about meetings is that they are behavioural. By this I mean that what plays out in meetings is a complex interplay of the relationships between people in the room, within the context of the social and cultural norms of the group.
So, to get sustained improvement in how we meet we need to look at structure, skills and mental models. A lot of people don't have the appetite for this work, as it takes time and it can feel uncomfortable for people, particularly when we challenge our mental models of the world. But, when this work is done it can turn meeting spaces into powerful places of connection, collaboration and creation.
Yup! There are a lot of ways to run strong meetings, the description above is one good example. For more sense of different types of meetings, i recommend Lucid's work which is helpfully clarifying. See, for example, https://blog.lucidmeetings.com/blog/16-types-of-business-meetings. Cheers!
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