Team Protocols Lead to More Productive Meetings

First product leads meeting of the year. Let’s do this 2017!

Couple of weeks ago Mark Zuckerberg posted this photo on Facebook. The decisions made in that meeting affects over a billion people on the planet. How do you make sure that a meeting with so many people in the room, is productive and efficient? You have protocols on how meeting and teams function.

Apologies for the low res image

Taking a closer look towards the left edge of the photo, you can see a whiteboard with the word ‘AGENDA’ written on it. With ‘Check-in’ being the first bullet on the list. Having a set agenda (No surprises that we don’t get to see the rest of list for the photo above) is also part of the protocol the team has agreed upon.

I don’t know what specific team meeting protocols are followed at Facebook, but I can say for sure that with 17 people in the meeting and decisions worth billions of dollars to be made, they have protocols in their meetings and have been following them pretty well over the years. You don’t go far without a strong foundation. Team protocols help lay that foundation.

Once everyone in the room is clear about what is being discussed, how long a topic is going to be discussed and what is everyone’s position on a decision, the meeting is productive.

While working on one of our projects, I had one of the worst meetings. There was conflict about ideas and the direction we should take moving forward. Two groups were formed, each championing their ideas vehemently. I thought — Why don’t they understand that this is better? and someone on the other team thought the same about their idea as well.

We went nowhere that day. Deadlock. I don’t know how that meeting ended. I got up and left before the end because I got angry and frustrated. Any decision I would have made in that state would have been be impulsive and without much thought behind it. In hindsight, a friend who went through something similar summed it up perfectly —

On multiple occasions, our team has agreed that an idea is dumb, but then defend it vehemently when with the other team. It feels like both teams know their ideas are shit but think that one is less shitty than the other.

So what went wrong? No protocols were followed, no ground rules on how this meeting is going to function, how everyone is suppose to act and what is required by each member. No process was followed to evaluate the ideas and combine them.

It was not as if we didn’t have protocols in place. We had them, I knew what they were. But I drifted, and by the end of the day I could see why shit had hit the fan. It is not only about having protocols, but also following them.

Teams which I have been involved in over the past six months have agreed on using the McCarthy core protocols. They are a set of clear instructions on how team meetings should take place and cover what to do is the various possible scenarios. One of my biggest takeaway is that there should not be discussions for the sake of discussions. They should be informed and be directed at reaching a decision.

When teams functions like a well oiled machine, (Meetings where you get a lot done with 15 mins to spare) you wonder that these protocols are just formal etiquettes. Hell, you might have efficient team meetings without protocols as well. But you see the value of these things when things start going south. I have had a few unproductive meetings which went longer and reached no conclusion. Looking back, it was because we were not implementing the protocols when we should have.

No one says that meetings were the best part of a project. They are not, the act of doing and creating is. Meetings should be short and high-intensity, leading to more time for craft and a beer with your team. Cheers!

Hope you enjoyed reading this article. I would love to hear about your team protocols and stories. Please write about it!

If you liked reading this article, do let me know by recommending it.

If you disagree or have an alternate view about something in the article, please respond, I’m here with my notebook eagerly waiting to hear your opinion.