Since my election to the Gentoo Council, I’ve become the de facto meeting chair and secretary. Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve learned a lot about what works well in online meetings (often by virtue of doing the opposite). By no means have I mastered this, but here’s some of my discoveries along the way.
What works well:
- Send out a draft agenda in advance (say, 1 week). This helps avoid confusion and disorganization at the meeting, and it also allows you to have no “open floor” section at all, because all topics should have come up when you posted the draft. Settle on a final agenda a couple of days in advance.
- On the draft, say who should attend the meeting to discuss each topic.
- Be specific about the topic, so you stay focused during the meeting.
- For each topic, have a very specific goal of what will be accomplished at that meeting. If it’s a decision, exactly what will the vote be? If it’s a discussion, what points do we want to get out of it, and why is it happening during the meeting instead of on mailing lists?
- Prepare. All of the information needed to make a decision should be readily available by the time the meeting comes along. To aid this, say on the draft agenda what information will be needed.
- Stay relentlessly on topic. Cut off diverging threads early on, before everyone gets involved.
- During the meeting, get an action plan for each topic: What’s the next step? Who’s responsible for it? When will they have it ready? Make sure the person responsible personally commits to this–don’t just assign it to them.
- Take notes, and post a public summary. This summary informs and reminds people of the progress made and what progress needs to be made next. By being posted publicly, it also allows for discussion, clarification and correction.
- Keep track of unresolved topics, and keep bringing them up over and over so they can’t slip through the cracks.
What works poorly:
- Request topics on a mailing list, but don’t collate them into an agenda until after the meeting’s started.
- Do your best to ensure that people relevant to a topic don’t even know it’s going to be discussed, or don’t tell them what information you need from them.
- Have vague topics, so nobody’s really sure what you’re supposed to be talking about or what you want to get out of it. Feel free to branch out into anything that seems related, or really anything at all.
- If a topic isn’t resolved by the end of the meeting, forget about it. If it’s important, it’ll come up again, right?
- Don’t tell anyone what the results of the meeting were. If you have to release something, make it as hard to comprehend as possible, like an IRC log instead of a summary.
It took a lot of pain and wasted time for me to figure out the value of doing things right, and I’m still working on getting some of the above points right, so I want to save you that same pain.
Do you have any more points to add? Please do so in the comments. Thanks!