How to Host the Best Meeting of the Week

Sam Spurlin
The Ready
Published in
15 min readAug 10, 2018


Original image: Alisha Lochtefeld

Bad meetings destroy good organizations. Bad meetings sap momentum and motivation. Bad meetings cultivate feelings of inefficacy and futility.

Bad meetings are very bad.

Vast quantities of human creativity, motivation, and energy die in corporate meetings every day. It’s a tragedy of epic proportions met with defeated shrugs and murmurs of, “Meetings just suck, you know?”

I do not know.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Meetings done right are one of the most powerful tools available to teams. But great meetings don’t happen by accident. Getting meetings right requires a shift in mindset and some deliberate decisions about how you want to work. There are many different types of meetings your team should know how to execute but this article is about one we’ve found to be the most impactful over and over again: the Action Meeting.*

We’ve witnessed the Action Meeting’s impact with teams of senior executives working through enterprise-level topics, frontline teams figuring out how to deliver to the customer, and everywhere in between. If your team has a mission that’s going to take longer than a day or two to accomplish, you have an opportunity to practice and perfect this meeting type.

Basic Principles

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it’s useful to know the principles that undergird Action Meetings. Some of these are probably radically different from how your organization normally does things, so take a few minutes to let them sink in.

1. Unblock instead of do

One pitfall of most corporate meetings is that they try to be all things to all people. A meeting will lurch between status updates, brainstorming, working sessions, and large strategic discussions with little rhyme or reason. However, the most effective meetings have a clear purpose and a process designed to achieve that purpose. The Action Meeting’s purpose is to articulate and unblock the work of the team — and that’s why it’s designed the way it is.

Its goal is for everyone to walk out of the room feeling clear about the status of the team’s projects, knowing the next actions they have personally committed to, and the next actions their colleagues have committed to.

2. Respect the phases

An Action Meeting is comprised of distinct phases (more on those below). Each phase has a purpose and, when taken as a whole, they allow a team to prime itself to have a positive meeting, develop the right habits, get updated on the state of the work within the team, unblock stuck work, and leave the meeting feeling clear and energized for the week ahead.

3. Facilitate and scribe

To help a team adhere to these phases, every Action Meeting has a Facilitator and a Scribe. These are roles team members generally take turns filling. The Facilitator guides the team through the structure of the meeting and redirects conversation and attention when it ventures outside the guardrails. The Scribe publicly captures decisions and “next actions” (on a whiteboard or in shared software) that are discussed during the meeting. By offloading this responsibility to the Scribe, other members don’t have to worry about capturing action items and there is one shared source of truth about what everyone agreed to do.

4. Team owns it

If a meeting exists solely because a leader finds it useful, be circumspect about whether that meeting should continue in its current form. Leaders don’t own meetings, teams do; Action Meetings embody this ethos. That means the meeting always starts on time, regardless of whether the leader is there. It means the meeting can happen even when there isn’t full attendance. It means no one person owns the agenda. Ultimately, whether or not the meeting is useful falls to the entire team—not just the highest paid person in the room.

5. Publicly capture the work

Meetings are filled with good intentions. Decisions are made (supposedly) and next steps are articulated. In the moment, it all feels good, straightforward, simple. How many times, though, have you left a meeting where the post-meeting email listed you as taking on next steps you don’t remember agreeing to? Or you go to check something your colleague said they’d do and you realize what you thought they were agreeing to do was not at all what they thought they were agreeing to do.

The Scribe role makes sure next actions get captured and that the folks they pertain to agree that they’re accurately portrayed. No more walking out of meetings with multiple ideas (or no idea) about who’s doing what. One source of truth!

How to Do an Action Meeting

Now that you understand an Action Meeting’s underlying principles, let’s talk about how to actually do one.

A check-in round offers a chance to catch your breath and center your focus on the task at hand—this meeting.

Rushing from meeting to meeting all day long? A check-in round helps your brain transition from one meeting to another.

Feel like you don’t really know the other people in the room? A check-in round helps you get to know each other over time.

Something as simple and easy as asking a check-in question can change the character or feeling of a meeting. To do it, the Facilitator poses a question and then everyone answers it individually in a round.

Need some questions? Our go-to is, “What has your attention right now?” Other good ones include, “Tell us about the last time you were really excited about something?” and “What’s the best piece of media you’ve consumed in the past week?” The options are endless.


1. Need questions? This list from the Brave New Work podcast has some good ideas.

2. Try rotating the responsibility of bringing a check-in question.

3. Try using check-in questions to prime the type of emotion you want the meeting to have (serious, relaxed, focused, etc.)

A checklist review helps teams build good habits.

Anybody who has set a New Year’s Resolution only to watch it fade away by March knows how hard it is to change habits. The only way to do it is to keep those commitments front-and-center so as to not forget what you’re trying to do.

It works the same way for teams. Enter the checklist review.

Teams should create a handful of questions they want to ask themselves during this phase of the meeting. Often, they prompt team members to ask themselves whether they’re doing the things they know they should be doing—but likely aren’t. A practical source for good checklist items is your organization or team’s strategy. What habits does your team need to develop to make your strategy come alive?

For example, perhaps your team of senior executives recently decided it was important to be more transparent. That’s a great sentiment—but what sort of action does that need to provoke within the team? The team may decide one way they want to experiment with being more transparent is by sharing work-in-progress before it’s perfect. The checklist item may be, “I shared a work-in-progress project with the organization this week.”

Checklist items are not meant to be overly precious and team members should feel comfortable adding new ones or removing ones that no longer serve a purpose.

During this phase of the meeting, the Facilitator will ask each person each of the questions on the list and the team members will respond “Yes” or “No.” This isn’t about being tracked or tracking others. Nobody is writing down who said yes or no. This is about identifying how you’re doing as a team and figuring out how you can support each other.

Grounding yourself in data relevant to your team helps you make good decisions.

Every team has certain metrics that tell them how they are doing. Chances are they aren’t the “official” metrics that get tabulated on an infrequent basis and reported up the ladder. Instead, each team should have a short list of metrics they look at regularly to gauge whether or not they’re headed in the right direction. Ultimately, these are numbers that the team, not the leader, should care about tracking.

During this phase of the meeting, the Scribe pulls up a shared spreadsheet or dashboard and the folks who are responsible for updating each metric give a brief description of this week’s number.


1. Fill out metrics in a shared document/repository before the meeting starts.

2. Assign folks to fill out metrics each week. This isn’t to say this person is in charge of this metric, just that they’re going to update the number. The team owns all metrics.

3. Don’t get bogged down in arguing about which metrics are worth tracking. If somebody thinks a metric might be worth tracking and it doesn’t take a ton of work to get an updated number regularly, track it and see if it’s useful. You can always stop tracking it later.

Project updates allow the whole team to get a quick snapshot of what’s changed in the past week.

The fundamental unit of work at the team level is the “project.” We use a general definition of project: any work that takes more than one “working session” to complete and is useful for the rest of the team to be aware of. Keeping a complete list of projects ensures we have a “stake in the ground,” so nothing falls through the cracks. We use this phase of the meeting for everyone who has insights into a project to give the rest of the team a quick look into what’s happened in the past week.

Doing this every week encourages the team to think of their work as seven-day sprints. It forces people to break down their projects into smaller steps in order to have something to share each week.

In this phase of the meeting, the Facilitator asks each person who owns a project on the list to share with the team, “What has changed in the past week?” This is about people telling each other what they need to know — not “reporting out for the leader.”

At the end of this phase we now have a complete sense of the work that’s happened in the past week and people undoubtedly have questions or want to dive deeper into something they just heard. Hold that thought… because that brings us to the next phase of the meeting.


1. A good Facilitator won’t let someone start talking about what they intend or plan to do on their project. This is expressly for sharing what has happened in the past week. If nothing happened, it’s acceptable to say, “No change.”

2. It’s best to have one person attached to each project. Not because they are working on it alone, but rather because they will be who the Facilitator turns to ask, “What has changed in the past week?” It’s okay for teammates to chime in if they have relevant information, but the Facilitator won’t let a general conversation about the project happen at this time.

3. Your project list should be visible to everyone and brought to each meeting.

Building an agenda in the moment, together, ensures the most urgent topics are discussed and everyone gets what they need to move forward.

Trust me when I say this is the actual meat of the meeting. A mature team with a good Facilitator will fly through the check-in round, checklist review, metrics review, and project updates, leaving the bulk of the meeting for building and processing the agenda.

Most people think somebody should “own” a meeting’s agenda and share it ahead of time so everyone knows what they’ll be talking about. That’s okay in some specific situations, but in general we are much more interested in a team building its agenda together. In a meeting like this where it’s all about identifying and unblocking the work, we trust the team to elevate the topics that need to be discussed rather than a leader doing it on their own.

During this phase of the meeting, people call out one or two words as “placeholders” for the things they want to talk about. For instance, if I want to have a conversation with the team about a new policy we’re supposed to be using, I might say something like “New policy” to get it added to the agenda. The Scribe’s job is to add items to the agenda for you, so if you aren’t using a shared piece of software or a whiteboard, you can just call out your items and the Scribe will make sure they get on the list.

As far as what can go on the agenda… anything goes! If you need something from a teammate or you need to tell the team something or you want to request that someone do something or you need support or you just want to get some feedback or you want to get some advice or or or. You get the picture. This is about people getting what they need to move the work forward. Don’t be shy about adding items to the agenda — this is your space to get what you need!

The Facilitator helps a team turn agenda items into decisions, conversations, next actions, new projects, etc.

Now that we have an agenda built in real-time by the team, the Facilitator helps the team process it. In whatever order they choose, the Facilitator helps whoever added an item get what they need. That language is specific for a reason. Just because an item is on the agenda doesn’t mean it’s an open invitation to have a wide-ranging conversation about things related (or not so related) to that topic. Instead, this is about helping the person who added the item get what they need. Maybe they need a quick conversation to get some reactions. Maybe they need to setup some 1:1 time with a teammate. Maybe they need a specific piece of advice. The Facilitator is there to make sure they get what they need as efficiently as possible so we can move on to the next item.

As agenda items get processed, quite often they will result in “next actions” for somebody to take. The Scribe’s job is to be listening for these commitments and capturing them publicly. Sometimes an outcome from an agenda item is actually a new project; in that case, the Scribe will add a new project to the project list. A key feature of this meeting is making sure all commitments are captured so there’s no confusion about who said what.


1. If you try to redirect a conversation toward something you need, a good Facilitator is going to cut you off and tell you to add an item to the agenda. Don’t worry — it takes practice to break old habits! You can add agenda items at any time, so just call out a placeholder phrase or add it yourself.

2. Sometimes the outcome of an Action Meeting are a bunch of next actions for people to have 1:1 meetings with each other. This may feel like wasted time. However, we’d argue that a bunch of 1:1 conversations that could theoretically happen concurrently is a better use of the team’s time than two people having what amounts to a 1:1 conversation while everybody else watches. It’s okay to come out of an Action Meeting with other meetings!

3. The Facilitator has ownership over the duration and order that items are processed from the agenda. If the team is running out of time, a good Facilitator will try to make sure the most critical items are processed first (and may ask for assistance in identifying those).

Practice makes perfect. Use a check-out round for a burst of retrospection and learning.

Action Meetings are not a one-time event. Instead, think of them as a practice. Because they’re usually held every week, 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 spend a lot of time processing them. Just taking a second to think through the question and share your answer is enough to make sure we’re learning from each meeting.


1. It’s 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 this round, then you’re missing one of the most important parts of doing this meeting.

2. Do a check-out round 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

1. Embrace the structure (even if it feels weird)

Most folks don’t have much experience participating in highly structured meetings. Following the steps I just laid out can feel counterintuitive at first. Feel that discomfort — and then do it anyway! Think of it as playing a new board game. The first couple times 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 just play the game. Give yourself the time to understand the structure before you throw it away as overly complex or convoluted.

2. Don’t get hung up on your metrics or checklist

The first time team’s run this meeting they inevitably want to spend 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, 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. The same goes for checklist items. See what keeps coming up over several weeks and let that guide the checklist items you decide to track.

3. Find your most useful definition of “project”

In general, a project is anything 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. 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, and c.) are relevant to the team’s overall purpose.

4. Arrive ready to participate

Teams that 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 toward one where 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 ready to be an engaged member of the team. This meeting structure does not work if nobody wants to be there.

Hidden Benefits to 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 doing it each week.

Teams who do regular Action Meetings with each other not only have a better meeting experience, but they also 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 meeting format for more than a couple weeks without bumping up against 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 organizations.

In many ways, doing a weekly Action Meeting is the Trojan Horse in which other important ideas related to organization design show up. All teams benefit from this experience—but the effect is particularly pronounced with leadership teams.

Every time I’ve introduced a leadership team to the Action Meeting format, they’ve realized they’ve been spending too much time in the weeds and needed to work on the operating system from which the rest of the organization runs.

So, yes, do an Action Meeting because it’s an incredibly effective way to get clear on the work your team needs to be doing and to make sure everyone is unblocked for the week ahead. But also do an Action Meeting because it will make your team better by creating a structured space where team members can be heard and important ideas can be brought to light.

In other words, come for the better meetings—but stay for the ever better organization.

The Ready is a future-of-work consultancy committed to changing how the world works — from business as usual to brave new work. We help organizations remove bureaucracy and adapt to the complex world in which we all live. Learn more by subscribing to our podcast and newsletter, checking out our book, or reaching out to have a conversation about how we can help your organization evolve ways of working better suited to your current reality.

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* 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

for sharing her insights with me as a seasoned Action Meeting Facilitator and , , and for editing and feedback assistance.