Practice makes perfect. Use the Check Out for a quick burst of retrospection and learning.
Action Meetings are not a one-time event. Instead, think of them more as a practice. Because they are done every week (usually) you have many opportunities to get better at them. That’s what the Check-Out round is for. It’s an opportunity for the team to take a second and ask themselves how they did. Typical closing round questions include, “What did you notice?” or “How did we show up?” or “What can we do better next time?” No need to record the answers or spend a lot of time processing them. Just taking a second to think through the question and say your answer out loud is enough to make sure we are learning from each meeting.
1. It can be easy to skip the Check-Out round when you run out of time. It’s okay if this happens occasionally but if your team regularly skips the Check-Out round then you’re missing one of the most important parts of doing this meeting.
2. You can do a Check-Out popcorn style or in a round. If nobody speaks up during popcorn style, switch over to a round and ask everybody to share an answer.
Tips for getting started
Embrace the structure (even if it feels weird)
Most folks don’t have much experience participating in highly facilitated or structured meetings. Following the structure I just laid out above can feel really counterintuitive at first. Feel that discomfort — and then do it anyway! Think of it as playing a board game for the first time. The first couple times you play you need to keep referring back to the rules to make sure you’re doing it right but pretty soon you get to the point where you stop thinking about the rules and you just play the game. Most teams need two or three attempts at this meeting type before they feel comfortable. Be patient and give yourself the time to understand the structure before you throw it away as overly complex or convoluted.
Having an experienced facilitator certainly helps a team get over that initial discomfort. A dedicated tool like Parabol can also help!
Don’t get hung up on Metrics or Checklist
The first time team’s run this meeting they almost inevitably want to spend most of the time arguing about what their metrics should be. I recommend not talking about metrics at all in your first meeting. Focus on capturing the team’s ongoing work and come back to metrics later. The metrics are meant to be highly specific to the team so sometimes it takes a few weeks to get a sense of what the most meaningful numbers to track might be. Let them emerge over time instead of getting hung up on them early on. The same goes for checklist items. Don’t put the first things that come to mind into your checklist review. See what keeps coming up over the course of couple weeks and let that guide the checklist items you decide to track.
Find your most useful definition of “project”
In general, a project is anything that the team wants to track that is going to take more than one working session to finish. However, teams may adjust which projects they actually add to their dashboard and track during their weekly action meeting based on the nature of their work together. In general, what you don’t want to do is have each person bring their individual list of projects and combine them into one huge list. Instead, the team should be tracking projects that a.) are useful for everyone to have perspective on, b.) require cross-functional collaboration from people on the team, c.) are relevant to the team’s overall purpose. Remember, adding a project to the Project List only commits the team to hearing about it during the Project Update portion of the meeting — which should be tightly facilitated anyway. Over time your team will get a feel for the level of project that is most useful to track in this meeting.
Arrive ready to participate
I’ve seen many corporate meetings where it’s extremely easy to show up unprepared. Teams who adopt the Action Meeting format are actively moving away from a paradigm where only one person needs to think about the meeting (usually the leader) and instead the whole team needs to come ready to play. That means you need to have thought about what items you want to add to the Agenda, that you’re prepared to update the Projects you’re leading, and are generally ready to be a fully engaged member of the team. This meeting structure does not work if nobody wants to be there.
The hidden benefits that will take your team to the next level
I just wrote so many words about the ins-and-outs of how to do this meeting and why it’s so great — but now I’m here to tell you that the reason we love this meeting format so much at The Ready has very little to do with the actual hour or so you may spend each week doing it.
Teams who do regular Action Meetings with each other not only have a better experience meeting but they actually become a more capable team outside the meeting.
Doing an Action Meeting each week gets teams wrestling with other key ideas in their organizational operating system. It’s impossible to use this weekly meeting format for more than a couple weeks without starting to bump up against some larger ideas that are connected to their overall organizational operating system. Topics related to authority, decision making rights, accountability, communication, psychological safety, organizational debt, and team structure inevitably come to the forefront. These topics, and the deliberate decisions teams and organizations make about them, are the backbone of healthy organizational operating systems.
In many ways, doing a weekly Action Meeting is the Trojan Horse in which other important ideas related to organization design show up. Any team benefits from this experience but the effect is particularly pronounced with leadership teams.
Every single time I’ve introduced a leadership team to the Action Meeting format they’ve realized they have been spending too much time in the weeds and they needed to do some work on the operating system in which where the rest of their organization runs. To organization designers like us at The Ready, that’s absolute music to our ears.
So, yes, do an Action Meeting each week because it is an incredibly effective way to get clear on the work that your team needs to be doing and to make sure everyone is unblocked for the week ahead. But also do an Action Meeting each week because it will make your team, and your organization, better by creating a structured space where team members can be heard and important ideas related to adaptive org design can be brought to light.
In other words, come for the better meetings but stay for the ever better organization.
* We owe a significant debt of gratitude to Brian Robertson and HolacracyOne for figuring out and sharing the basic structure of Action Meetings in what they call Tactical Meetings. If you’re curious about the origins of this meeting it’s definitely worth checking out Holacracy.
Thanks to Alison Randel for sharing her insights with me as a seasoned Action Meeting facilitator and Tim Casasola, Jurriaan Kamer, and Spencer Pitman for editing and feedback assistance.