Running a successful engineering team meeting is usually a trial-by-error feat. Team members might dread the boardroom or if they're pinging in remotely, video conference. However, once everyone is past the growing pains of an initial couple of meetings, you can be on your way to creating an atmosphere that brings out the best in all parties.
The importance of working as a team when it comes to software development is extensive. You might even have had to do team building activities. It turns out, there's a good chance that everything you unknowingly learned by partaking in those could help you out in the long run.
Studies have been done for decades on software development, likely for as long as software has been a thing. In most cases, the results have been resounding on the side of teamwork as opposed to acting independently. Therefore, if you have a good engineering team, then meetings should also be successful. At least, that is, if everyone has a say.
The Secrets to Successful Meetings
Although good teamwork does equal everyone having their fair share, as the person running a particular meeting, you need to know that you're responsible for the meeting. As the meeting’s leader, if you provide an effective meeting wherein all parties are involved and able to give their input, you’ll also be inspiring your team to open up.
Let's put it this way, an excited developer just joined your team. They came up with x ideas during a brainstorming session and some more on top of that. When everyone sits down to put their brains together over this, there might be someone else there in the ranks that brings up a complication. For example, maybe there’s a specific addition to the software that would react badly to the developer's ideas x, y, and z.
For an effective meeting, regardless of the industry in which you're conducting one, you need to listen and you need to take charge. You can be the one to bring hidden gems out of the team members who, otherwise, wouldn't speak up about their own ideas. And honestly, it's trite, but the saying, "There's no "I" in "team"," is especially true.
Over the course of this article, we're going to cover eight practical ways of ensuring successful and productive engineering team meetings in the future. Keep in mind: We know these things because we do them.
Eight Components of Productive Engineering Meetings
1. A positive attitude
As soon as you call a meeting, as the leader, your next job is to go about making it the Best Meeting Yet. There are far too many people out there who actively complain about meetings. Unfortunately, whether you know it or not, it's not difficult for the team to pick up on your negativity. If the leader doesn't want to be there, nobody else is going to want to be there either.
In order for the meeting to be a success, you have to work as a team. Even in the boardroom. Socialization has been shown to inspire, time and time again. To all be sitting around in a room somewhere or for you to be behind your desk and nowhere to be seen will do everything but get the neurons running. Instead, show your team how much you appreciate what they do.
You don’t have to be Michael Scott about it.
2. Have an agenda
Believe it or not, there are team leaders out there who like to operate with a certain laissez-faire style of running a meeting. The thing is, nobody actually respects anyone who calls a meeting that has no structure to it.
Additionally, the act of planning an agenda for the meeting can help you to get a feel of what it is you're going to bring up. You can also feel free to ask around the team: What would they like to see? What ideas do they have? Ask for input. You don't have to take it, but asking builds trust.
Before the meeting happens, send out the agenda in the calendar invite. If something is expected to be reviewed before the meeting, make that crystal clear. There shouldn’t be any surprises about what the meeting is about, or what should be accomplished by having it.
3. A time frame
An effectively run meeting can inspire progress, creativity, and workmanship. Your agenda should have a purpose, and purpose should be the main topic to consider primarily. Similar to the way storytellers will map out a vague idea of their story down to plot points, characters, and journey, doing this inside of your meeting agenda will make for a successful, inspiring meeting.
Once you have a purpose, you can consider the time frame. Regardless of whether you're going to be conducting the meeting online or in person, you need to ask yourself how long you think it should take. There's a different time frame for different purposes, after all. For example, a two-day team-building retreat will be much different in the planning stages to a half-hour coffee brainstorm.
Make sure you can cover all of the topics you want to cover, leave a little room for feedback, and then you're golden.
4. Know when to conduct a meeting online, in person (or at all)
With modern day technology, you could hold a team meeting anywhere from Bora Bora, Toronto, Peru, or even France if necessary. That said, there’s a time and a place for conference calls and a time and a place for actual, in-person, physical meetings. If the meeting you're working on an agenda for can possibly be done via email or over the phone, why would you book out the boardroom?
Additionally, sometimes ideas hit at the most unlikely of times. Maybe that's in sweatpants while you’re waiting for a new match in Overwatch or behind a desk. Either way, you need to consider what medium(s) you're going to use for the meeting before you schedule it or even if you need to schedule a meeting at all.
As long as you can accomplish your goal, email or Slack might even be where it's at.
5. Provide opportunities for feedback
They often say that communication is the key to a successful relationship. Well, you and your team are a relationship and, therefore, honest and frequent communication is incomparable.
Whether you're wanting to ask for input at the end of the meeting or leave some leeway for everyone to bounce their ideas off of each other, it doesn't matter. It also doesn't matter if you'd like to hold a forum. As long as your team knows they're heard and that you'll listen to them, they won't hold back.
On top of all of this, constructive criticism or less positive feedback from your team can be taken on board. Once you know where it is you're going wrong, if you are, then you can start to take the steps to remedy it. This goes hand-in-hand with maintaining a sense of relationship. Yes, you're their leader. But you care about their thoughts, too.
6. Keep it fresh
Why not shake things up a little? There's no reason that “meeting” has to mean “boring”. Nor does it have to mean tables, charts, or even spreadsheets. By this point, if you're a good team leader, you'll know your engineers well. You should know what they'd respond to, be it inviting guest speakers in or running a team-building activity. (Yeah, like in high school).
Some more ideas to add a little flavor to your next meeting could be:
- Watch a TED talk together - anyone who's anyone in software has a TED talk (you can find a host of inspirational engineering talks on Quora)
- Change up the scenery a little - instead of holding the meeting in a boardroom, hold it in a wine bar
- Brainstorm together - even more entrancing is making the team brainstorm together, then you can keep notes on ideas
- Donuts and coffee - everybody loves donuts and coffee
In general, anything that changes up a meeting room is a good choice to make.
7. Use data insights to back up your findings
In this day and age data truly has the power. It also has the power to turn meetings into productive and sessions. For example, having data that backs up the meeting's topic or subtopic can help you and your team to work together to improve on or alter the findings.
Data is also a tangible way to see how far your team has come, whether via meetings or via the workload. Often, seeing how much you’ve done can inspire you to want to do even more, and this only increases when that “you” is a team.
Charts and tallies can also be a way of actively seeing results, of what your team has accomplished and of what they can do in the future. On the other side of the coin, being able to see where improvement is needed is so much easier to improve on.
Furthermore, the simple act of sharing this data will add yet another level of trust between you and those attending the meeting.
8. ONLY hold meetings when there's something worth sharing
Look, this might sound like a given, but again, you'd be surprised. Managers and team leaders can call meetings for just about anything. Sometimes it's a personal issue like a party or a birth and others, it's a meeting about a future meeting. That just takes us right back to Michael Scott territory.
Instead, if meetings only happen once in a while, then your team won't get too downtrodden by having to step away from their work to culminate every day. The main reason a senior engineer should hold a meeting is to provide and/or share information with the team. If you just want to share your next great idea - save it for the next scheduled meeting.
Note it down somewhere. If the idea really is good, it will stick.
Meetings don't have to feel like chores, not to team leaders or their engineers. On the contrary, a meeting that throws the above ideas into a melting pot can invigorate and refresh your team. When your team speaks of your leadership skills, they’ll sooner say, “They never listen” than, “They listen.” Don’t be That Guy.
A good meeting has an agenda, a time frame, and a tangible goal.