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Our team of 10 developers meet weekly. The meetings are rather boring and not particularly useful. What format/agenda do you utilize to have good meetings?

We meet weekly in the conference room with pizza provided. The format is we go around the room and list the status of various tasks we are working on and discuss tasks for the next week. Managers will provide an overview of upcoming projects and priorities for the coming months and year ahead.

Update

The goal of these meeting is more or less - general team building, to share the knowledge of what everyone is working on, and to keep everyone aware of shifting company initiatives. It is not to formally 'hand out' work assignments (that is done via other means).

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So what's the goal of those meetings? Would anybody not know what to do without them? –  user281377 Jun 25 '11 at 20:38
    
Good point - updated question. –  Bill Iacocca Jun 25 '11 at 20:43
    
They are bored with free pizza? O_o –  maple_shaft Jun 25 '11 at 21:42
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When I used to run my meetings the best way I found to get the development team engaged was to start talking latest trends in techs and let people share their opinons. Perhaps you all should add an item to the agenda for discussions of latest technology or techniques. Also consider mixing it up with games or mind puzzles that allow the team to bond. A good night out on the town can do wonders too. You do not have to spend a ton of money, maybe meet at someones house and cook a diner together. –  Jeff Jun 25 '11 at 22:06
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You say these meetings are boring and not particularly useful. Then why are you having them? –  Diego Deberdt Jun 25 '11 at 23:57

7 Answers 7

By the time we do our team meetings, we already know what we've been doing all week and what we'll be doing next week. And we have a reasonable overview of the long-term plan.

What we do in our team meetings is talk about what is bugging us. Anything that happened in the last week which slowed us down significantly, things that we'd like to change in the future, particularly process problems.

The round-table format is similar to yours but we come out of it with a load of tasks for various people. And we're very keen to keep it light-hearted. People are expected to be able to be totally open and are discouraged from taking things personally.

And we deliberately time this meeting to be the last half of a Friday morning and go from there to the pub for lunch (non-mandatory), which doesn't necessarily last only an hour.

I would suggest from experience that managers (ie. anyone above team leader / project manager) shouldn't be in these meetings. It only discourages people from being totally honest. Team leaders / project managers can relay messages upwards in different meetings.

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I like the short meeting and then going out to the pub. So you go around the table, and people just bring up any issues they have? I've found developers aren't always into articulating their opinions without being explicitly asked - how to do you get everyone to share their thoughts? –  Bill Iacocca Jun 25 '11 at 20:50
    
+oo for discussing process problems weekly. I expect your velocity is quite high, and improving by the week. –  kevin cline Jun 25 '11 at 20:50
    
@Bill, in my experience, as the team builds an identity, developers become more open to articulating their problems. Particularly if they see results. Most developers stay quiet for as long as they don't believe anything will come of speaking up. –  pdr Jun 25 '11 at 20:58
    
Going to the pub and then discussing issues is a good way to get those quite ones talking. :) It works for me. –  Jeff Jun 25 '11 at 22:09

Cancel the damned meetings. They have no point unless they have a point. I have been at too many of these over the last 15 years. I'm pretty sure that if the brain cells injured by these no-agenda "team meetings" were still functioning, my team and I would have built something that sold for billions of dollars and I could retire to relative obscurity and pursue my dream of fiddling with some code that only I care about for the next twenty years.

You probably have brief daily status meetings or stand-ups already. If you must continue the ritual of wasting a hour a week so that you feel like you're team building, then team build already. Set an agenda or request items from your team members that they think the team should address, and give them the power to go and act on those impulses after the meeting. That's it.

If there's nothing worthy of note on the agenda the day before the meeting, cancel it and go out to drinks (or coffee) for an early after work diversion, so that you don't interrupt whatever concentration might have actually been built up just before the scheduled interruption, and just talk about whatever comes to mind. Geek talk. It'll just happen. It's ok. If you're paying me well enough, I won't even mind buying my own gin and tonic.

I've had enough crappy lukewarm pizza at boring team meetings over the last 15 years of my career to add at least 10 of the excess pounds on my waistline, and I actually walk to and from work most days. I don't need it. Unless the people in my team suck, in which case I'm already plotting my exit, I'll build my own rapport, no structured exercises required. I'll get more done, I'll be happier, and my coworkers will like me more than if I feel obligated to present some attempt at proving my intellectual horsepower or listen to people drone on about process improvements or ritualized intellectual masturbation about source control provider factory seed data unit test models for widget acceleration and best practices for leveraging my strategic initiatives for performance test environments. (Sorry, I was snoozing and I just picked a random string of terms to regurgitate that I half-heard over the last twenty minutes of pointlessness.)

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Point taken. Though as mentioend in the question, there is a purpose to the meetings - it's the result that is the issue. We actually do not have daily status meetings (we avoid those) - so some form of regular meeting to brief the group, and to get together as a team is desirable here. –  Bill Iacocca Jun 26 '11 at 13:29

We usually have 1-hour meeting every Monday morning (10 man team), around 9am:

  • Top Down: 15 minutes for the TL (Team Lead), who tells us what's going in the company (new contracts, new developments, anything exciting...)
  • Round the Table: 15 minutes for a round-the-table (less than 2 minutes each then) where we just say what we're doing to make sure everyone knows what's going on, and during which the TL will tell us the general direction for the week to come. Specifics are kept at bay.
  • Presentation: 30 minutes for a presentation of one of the project we've got. Either high-level overview, mockup or technical, it depends on who's doing the presentation and what they are working on. The presentation is open and people invited to chim in. If a discussion gets too specific though, it's postponed, so that the presentation can go on.

I really like those meetings, personally, because it's a fast way to get up-to-date on what's going on outside of my little pet projects.

The important point, I think, is to keep the specifics out:

  • at the end of the week (end of Thursday/early Friday) we do a full report on what we did, what was scheduled and was postponed/cancelled and the issues we encountered to the TL, no need to repeat that on Monday morning and bore every one out of their wits
  • extended discussions are discouraged, and people encouraged to schedule a specific meeting with those concerned.

It works rather well (especially, I guess, because our TL meet with his colleages and boss on Friday so we get fresh news).

People may bring croissants, or other stuff, but it's not mandatory and not scheduled. We do appreciate when anyone does though!

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I like the format. Especially the presentation segment - I think that would be of benefit to the group. Also nice to hear a developer say they really like the meetings! –  Bill Iacocca Jun 26 '11 at 13:27
    
@Bill: I like my team meetings :) Don't worry, I also have my share of boring meetings to attend to... I admit I really like the presentations, it's a little reward for the presentator (show off :p), a good warmup for the group (who's going to have to support it) and a good occasion for remarks/ideas/etc... –  Matthieu M. Jun 26 '11 at 15:36

If things get boring, discuss the latest tech. Ask developers what they've been doing with new frameworks, servers, etc.

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Good idea. Would you do this in an ad hoc fashion or an explicit lunch and learn subject discussed and prepared ahead of time? –  Bill Iacocca Jun 25 '11 at 20:51
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Probably ad hoc... unless there's some kind of formal presentation that needs to be set up in advance. –  kprobst Jun 25 '11 at 22:34

You could try reporting last weeks progress in an e-mail ahead of time and only discuss issues that caused problems and briefly outline what you're going to do this week. This will keep each person's report brief and interesting.

The upcoming projects and priorities shouldn't usually change from week to week so why not move these into a separate monthly meeting. If anything urgent comes up then it can be raised in the weekly meeting, otherwise you're just going to be repeating yourselves.

I'd also lose the pizza. You don't want any distractions.

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Good point about monthly meetings for certain items. The pizza is a big hit - I like eating with the team (as does Joel joelonsoftware.com/items/2011/04/28.html). Though it does get dull eating in the conference room - I've thought about going out for lunch with the group. –  Bill Iacocca Jun 25 '11 at 20:46
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@Bill - perhaps reserve the brought in pizza for the monthly meetings and go out for lunch once a week/fortnight as a team. –  ChrisF Jun 25 '11 at 20:47

When our team was all local, we used to have these weekly meetings. If your goal is for growing the team (rather than the team reporting status specifically to you), then my advice would be to take as much "process" or structure out. We started off just like you, go around the table and everyone list their work, while everyone listening was bored out of their skulls if that work didn't apply to them in any way.

One thing that we decide as the team, is that if our boss was going to make us sit in a room for an hour, we will at least have donuts. so we went around the room and every week different person would be in charge of donuts (one process everyone can subscribe to). Our boss also relaxed over time and instead of specific topics to list and move on, we just went around the table and only brought up stuff that bugged us or that was cool/interesting. If your mouth was stuffed with a donut or you didn't feel like speaking that morning, you could just pass.

As a developer in a big company, I could make a list of 250 things that company does to waste my time, but I actually found those meetings fun way to just shoot the sh#t with the team and eat donuts. Now that our team is located in 3 different states and 4 countries, we don't have those meetings any more :(

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I find these are better if the devs get to showcase what they've accomplished. Devs are disinterested in the generic awe of the masses (sorry, masses) but the respect and esteem of our peers (who actually understand how difficult that must have been, or how clever, etc) is an addiction. Devs love the new shiny better stronger faster cleaner whatever. Group setting -> your monday morning LAN party. ^^ The meeting must focus on the devs and the code / tech or it's generally a waste of the dev's time (devs will bond over the code ^^ it just happens.)

HTH

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