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Effective Meetings at Spotify

Here are some internal meeting guidelines I helped develop shortly after joining Spotify in 2011 as the meeting culture at the time “left some room for improvement”. They are based on advice I have picked up earlier from sources like Behind Closed Doors and www.effectivemeetings.com that I have found useful, on input from my agile coach and People Ops colleagues at Spotify and on feedback received from engineers, product owners and other employees at Spotify.

Please let me know if you find them useful or if you have advice on effective meetings.

Effective meetings guidelines

A short summary of the most important things:

  • Only meet if it is really necessary.
  • Make sure the meeting has a clear objective. (“By the end of the meeting I want the group to…”)
  • Prepare and create an agenda.
  • Circulate the agenda, other meeting information and assigned preparations prior to the meeting.
  • Start and end the meeting on time.
  • Capture all the actions and decisions that come up.
  • Plan to improve your next meeting.
  • Take notes and distribute them as soon as possible.

For more information and advice on each point, keep on reading below.

Doozer sprint planning

Do you really need a meeting?

Avoid a meeting if the same information could be covered by a memo or an e-mail. Always ask your self if a meeting is the best way to handle the situation. If you cancel a meeting, please release the room so that others can use it.

Purpose and agenda

Be clear about what the purpose and expected outcome of the meeting is and what the plan to get there is. “By the end of the meeting I want the group to…” There is a number of templates available to help you with this, e.g., the “POAD” template:

Purpose, Objective(s), Agenda, Deliverables. Purpose can be skipped for some meetings.
Example:

  • Purpose: Solve the technical challenges migrating X to Hermes
  • Objectives: Identify all affected areas, Share understanding of impact within the team
  • Agenda:

– Introduction
– Currently identified actions
– Discussion of issue X
– Summarize into stories
– Next steps – book next meeting if required

  • Deliverables:

– Understanding in the team
– New stories for the next sprint

Allow for adjustment based on new information that surfaces in the meeting. Use a flip chart or a white board for the agenda to create a focus for the meeting.

Allow for time between meetings by keeping meetings short

For a meeting to start on time, people have to be able to get there in time. That is difficult if meetings are booked back to back. A simple solution to this is to book shorter meetings, e.g., 25 minutes instead of 30 and 50 minutes instead of an hour. There is a “Default meeting length” setting in Google Calendar settings, “Speedy meetings”, that changes the suggested meeting length to accommodate this. This also makes it easier for the next group using the meeting to prepare and start their meeting in time.

Invite the right people

Make sure all who needs to be at the meeting are invited, but also make sure you don’t waste peoples time by inviting them to a meeting they don’t have to be in. Consider if some stake holders would be happy with a summary of the meeting rather than participating. To increase attendance and the chance to get a room, please book well ahead. If you find that you are not learning or contributing to the meeting, feel free to leave the meeting.

Always start and end meetings on time

We should not punish punctual people by not starting meetings in time. Starting meetings on time even though everyone is not there makes it clear to everyone that it is important to be there in time. If calls/texts to latecomers have to be made someone other than the person starting the meeting should do that.

If you are still not able to start on time, don’t let the meeting drag on past its end time – it sends the signal that it is okay to be late but it also makes it difficult for people to get to their next meeting and for the next group using the meeting room.

Prepare the meeting

Distribute the purpose, agenda, and expected outcomes prior to the meeting. Allow people to suggest changes and allow them sufficient time to prepare if preparation is necessary for the meeting. If you are invited to a meeting, please respond in time so that the meeting organizer knows what attendance to expect. Don’t worry about them being spammed by accept/decline notifications – they can be turned off in Google Calendar.

Try to set up video conferencing and projector before meeting – if more people use the effective (shorter) meetings option in Google Calendar this will hopefully give us time to do this. If you find squatters in a room you have booked, don’t be afraid to ask them to leave – and squatters please be prepared to leave rooms you have not booked with short notice.

(We also published an internal step by step guide on how to run a distributed meeting after having run a lot of experiments daily in the agile coach group.)

Plan to improve

Use the last few minutes of recurring meetings as time to review these questions: What worked well in this meeting? What can we do to improve our next meeting? Answers to the second question should be phrased in the form of a suggested action.

Assign Meeting Preparation

If it is a meeting to exchange information, make sure people know what you expect them to bring to the meeting. If you have sent out background information, make sure people know that they have to read it before the meeting. And so on.

Focus on meeting

Show that you value other peoples time by focusing on the meeting. If you feel you have to bring your computer to work while in the meeting, it is often better to decline the invitation or excuse yourself from the meeting and read up on the minutes later.

Capture Actions

At the end of a meeting, go around and review the action steps each person has captured by letting them tell the rest of the group. This breeds accountability and gives you a chance to see that nothing has been forgotten.

Use meetings for multi-directional exchange of information

Do not do serial status reporting meetings where several people working on largely independent initiatives report status to a manager. Use one-on-ones for that.

Send out notes as soon as possible after the meeting

Try to distribute notes within a day of the meeting and keep them short and to the point. This will increase the chance that you get things right, that people actually read them and that they follow-up on captured actions. Send the notes to all participants and also to other interested parties.



2 thoughts on “Effective Meetings at Spotify”

  • Great post Joakim!

    I work at a place where we love meetings. The mmore meetings, the more important you are.

    When I invite to a meeting, I also try to be very explicit on what I expect each and every invitee expect to do/prepare before the meeting. “Read this report” or “collect those metrics” or what ever it might be. Besides beeing more prepared, it gives me and the invitees a chance to check that we interpret the expectations (more or less) the same way.

    This may not be necessary in a smaller org, but it saves plenty of time in my huge org.

    Take care! /Johan

  • Starting and ending the meeting on time is not only vital, it’s also useful in weeding out people who don’t need to be there. If there are people who are constantly late, and don’t seem to care that they are missing out on key bits of the meeting – stop inviting them. It really is that simple :)

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