Kevin Hoffman – Leading Super Productive Meetings » UIE Brain Sparks

Kevin: About “Remote.” I think, in a successful culture, the, do what I’ve done before that made it work well. If everybody wants to do the same thing and everybody has the same definition of work well, then your culture feels very productive. It feels like you can do great things, and it feels good.

But when those things start to vary a little more, when people’s definitions of work well start to vary.

One of the more interesting kind of ways of looking at design and what’s working and what isn’t working is, I think if you look at the evolution of Google’s design execution across their application in different channels on mobile. You can definitely see they’ve kind of picked up their game a lot in recognizing that designing a good experience is a lot more than just engineering excellence and getting at really fast load times.

But I think that was an interesting kind of emergent evolution for them. I don’t think it was something that they consciously decided to do, it just started happening in different product groups.

Then eventually, people were like, oh, yeah, that actually does work well. We have all the engineering speed, things are loading great and things work really well. But it’s also being used more because I like using Gmail better on the iPhone, or I like the way Google maps works better than Apple maps or what have you.

I’m really interested in the meeting sense, how can you start to detect those emergent properties for your culture and capitalize on them, but at the same time, use frameworks that allow those things to emerge? Because a lot of our tendencies in meetings is actually to prevent emergents.

I think there are two things that are classic ways of starting meetings. One of the classic ways of starting meetings is to say, “We’re not going to leave until we decide.”

I did a workshop in Portugal last month and was talking to some folks at larger software companies. One of them was like, I hate that about our culture is that, how do we solve the problem of like, we have a meeting that ends at 2 PM, but they always end at 4 PM, because we don’t leave until we make a decision.

I think the problem there is, you’re not actually allowing exploration. You’re focusing people to eliminate before they’ve considered the problem fully. That’s a really simple design principle that you can say, doesn’t take a lot of prep, just ask the question. Does the conversation that we want to have in this meeting allow for exploration and illumination?”

On the flip side, there’s the, I don’t like to say hippie but the really more spiritual culture of, “We’re just going to see what happens. We’re just going to explore and talk and go on tangents and figure out where we’re going to go.” People don’t really respond well to those kinds of meetings either because they feel like they didn’t get anything done. They just feel like, “Well, we put a lot of interesting ideas out there and it was fun to do that, but what are we actually going to do?” They go back to their desk feeling like, “Now I actually have to work and sort through this stuff.”

As a design framework, just saying, “Is the content of our meeting, does it have space to grow and does it have space to contract?” is a way gut check the design of a a conversation. It’s really good way to assess whether or not the conversation is going well. Have we expanded enough? Have we contracted yet? Are we contracting at the beginning when we should be allowing more options?

Keeping that advice is a really good way to solve problems like wallflowers who are really reluctant to contribute either because they don’t want to be berated by their boss in a meeting or they don’t feel like their contribution is going to be taken seriously or they’re just shy. On the flip side, it’s a great way to start to handle people who are really alpha personalities in meetings who, once they start talking, the meeting kind of steers toward their agenda. Having somebody whose job it is to watch that conversation for the natural ebb and flow helps manage those things, which are natural tendencies and can be used to get to better ideas.