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I work as part of a small team working on engineering product development. I recently got a promotion to a more strategic-focus role. One of my first tasks is to "redo" the agenda for a recurring meeting that we've always had. This is a decently long meeting (~1.5 hours) that happens weekly, and was meant to be a session for our small team to get on the same page and discuss future steps, but has historically devolved into either tangential discussions, or in some cases, rants. I want to prove myself in my new role, but because of my lack in experience, I would love some help in figuring out how I should scope my change.

I want to return to what the meeting was intended to do (discussing our progress and planning for the next week), but I also don't want to just effectively say "I'm going to do your exact agenda but better." The best I have come up with is to sell it as a "strategic session", where each person is more responsible for their own strategy for the short term goals, which will give people more ownership of their tasks, while simultaneously letting other people into their thought process for working, and gives others a chance to give feedback on planning. This should reduce silo-ing of tasks, while also possibly preempting roadblocks (which have been an issue recently). I don't want this to come off as just a paraphrasing of the original agenda, but I'm not sure what other direction I can take it. I would appreciate suggestions on other avenues of discussion that I could pursue, or other ways of phrasing / forming of the agenda.

EDIT: Sorry, I completely forgot a vital piece of information! We have daily standups, and these meetings are essentially supposed to be more in-depth versions of the standups, and originally was supposed to be more forward thinking (or at least on a week or 2-week scale rather than one or 2 day scale).

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    "People, we are going to have a "stand-up". Each of you has 5 minutes to state your status and identify problems. If you need more, we will discuss in in a smaller group later." – RedSonja Jun 4 at 13:40
  • Choose a task management tool, buy it, use it mercilessly. – RedSonja Jun 4 at 13:41
  • @RedSonja As I mentioned in to the answer by Mister Positive and then copied as an edit, I completely forgot to mention that we already have daily standups implemented. Sorry about that! – Fred E Jun 4 at 14:32
  • Then I suggest any other meeting can be declared redundant. – RedSonja Jun 4 at 14:33
  • @RedSonja While I certainly agree with you to a large extent, I have been expressly forbidden to cancel the meeting. My task is to make this meeting work, in whatever way I can, and canceling is not an option given to me. – Fred E Jun 4 at 14:35
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Some teams can work fine with very loose agendas and free-form discussions, but many can't. It sounds like yours can't. Generally, the best way to approach meetings for teams that need structure is to:

  • Be deliberate: Maybe the meeting it to talk about strategy, or project architecture, or current issues, or maybe some mix of the three. But in order to be successful, you need to define that ahead of time.
  • Be specific: If you say "this meeting is to talk about issues" you'll end up back where you started: tangents and rants. Instead, you need to say something like, "This meeting is to talk about roadblocks where you need another team member's support" or "The first half of this meeting is to give a quick red/green status on current clients, plus report on next steps"
  • Be of value: If no one needs to know what everyone else is working on, don't waste time in the meeting having everyone list what they're working on! Don't have meetings just to have meetings. Make sure there's a reason for what is being discussed - make sure the agenda will add value. Make sure people understand the value.

Once you're in the actual meeting, your job as the organizer is to be the traffic cop. If you're talking about red/green client status and someone starts talking about issues, remind them that issues are later. Or if you're supposed to be giving a quick issues update and someone starts getting in the weeds arguing about some specific decision, ask them to set up a separate meeting. You need to focus on gently redirecting people to stay on topic in order to make sure the meeting fulfills the final bullet above of staying valuable.

In some environments, a 90 minute weekly meeting might be a great format. In other environments, you might be better off with a 10 minute standup at the beginning of the day. Take the time now as you're changing the agenda to reflect on the format, too. And finally, after every instance of the meeting, take some time to reflect - how did it go? Is the format relevant? Did people zone out halfway through and lose interest because it wasn't valuable? Do your agenda points make sense? Adjust as necessary, or change your "traffic cop" strategy to keep people on topic.

Editing to add a final thought: If you are really struggling to come up with an agenda that meets these goals - especially the "be of value" goal - you might not actually need the meeting. Lots of managers assume they need meetings all the time as a way to get or share info, or as a way to solve problems. Meetings are just one of many tools. It's best to make sure you're using tools appropriately, and if you're not, do something about it. A very common employee complaint in many workplaces is I have so many meetings I can't get anything done, and most of them are useless! - make sure you're not contributing to that problem.

  • Thank you dwizum! Thats definitely really great advice, and I will probably be rereading this several times before my first meeting, haha. As for specifics of what to put on the agenda, do you have any other suggestions other than the ones you already mentioned for possible topics of discussion? Anything from your experience in the past of helpful things when thinking about strategy on the scale of ~1-2 weeks? – Fred E Jun 4 at 14:44
  • That's like asking what kind of screwdriver you need to unscrew something. You need the screwdriver that fits the screw. You need the agenda that fits your workplace. Look at the problems you have and the solutions you need. Build an agenda around that. This is what my third bullet is about: making an agenda that actually has value in your workplace. We may be able to throw suggestions on the table but the most critical thing is for you to decide based on what you know of your workplace. The danger in us suggesting things is that you just use our suggestions regardless of their fit. – dwizum Jun 4 at 17:23
  • Whole-heartedly agree with the 'Be Of Value' point. I've sat through quite a few large dept meetings that are mostly a waste of my time because 3/4 of it just isn't relevant to me or my team. Things discussed in meetings should be relevant to all parties present. – Smock Jun 5 at 12:09
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As a new manager, it is not uncommon to make changes to the way things to improve efficiencies. A great place to start is meetings like this: A stand-up or status type of meeting.

Take a look at this link Daily Stand Up. This is not the end all be all, as it were, but it does have a ton of useful tips to run your status meetings.

Typically, meetings like this run 15 minutes or so, but a lot of companies stretch the time allowed and alter the purpose a bit so it completely meets your organizations needs.

Another piece of advise I will offer it to make changes where you can gradually as to not completely shock your staff. This is a good example of doing that.

  • Sorry, I completely forgot a vital piece of information! We have daily standups, and these meetings are essentially supposed to be more in-depth versions of the standups, and originally was supposed to be more forward thinking (or at least on a week or 2-week scale rather than one or 2 day scale). – Fred E Jun 4 at 14:31
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It seems a little odd. A meeting, is fundamentally a tool to make decisions. If the focus is supposed to be strategic, are you really making strategic decisions every week?

If it's about how you are progressing against your strategic targets, rather than setting them, then fine, and makes it a bit easier. Your strategic targets become the basis for the agenda. The output of the meeting should be the priorities for the next week. The input should be the previous weeks priorities and how you have progressed against them.

Some kind of Kanban board (Either Physical or on something like Trello) might help the planning and tracking. But you may still want to produce a more traditional set of minutes from the meeting.

  • Perhaps strategy is not the best word to use in that scenario. Our goals do shift quite rapidly, though, as we are in an early stage of development and have quite a bit of flexibility in our schedule due to the nature of our experiments. Because of this, there is quite a bit of sway in plans, and getting everyone on the same page can be difficult due to frequent changes in course. – Fred E Jun 4 at 16:25
  • There are several different types of meetings. Not all have 'decision' as the primary outcome - but you are right, it helps to acknowledge the intended outcome in advance. – Sean Houlihane Jul 9 at 11:23

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