Continuing another arc that I’ve previously explored here in previous posts, first in 2014 and more recently, at the end of last year, I recently came across David Gasca’s The Silent Meeting Manifesto
The get the meta nerd-out out of the way first, this arc is a really cool example of the evolution/adoption of an organizational practice: from “here’s this unusual practice that Amazon uses and seems to be working really well for them” (2014) through “we’ve tweaked and adopted this practice in our company and it seems to be working well for us as well” (2018) to “here’s the manual/playbook for how to implement this practice in your company” (now).
Since Gasca’s post is a bit verbose (Medium estimates the reading time at 26mins) here’s a quick summary/teaser that’ll hopefully convince you to commit the time to read the full thing:
Silent meetings aim to address these 10 challenges with the traditional (“loud”) meeting format:
- No agenda
- No shared reading material for the whole group
- Unequal time-sharing
- Bad presentations — too slow, too fast, and meandering
- Most meeting attendees don’t comment
- Reading is faster than listening
- Favors native speakers
- Bad for remote attendees
- Rambling questions
- Comments from the meeting often get lost and aren’t captured in any doc
Silent meetings address these challenges by making 4 key changes to the way meetings are typically run:
- Ahead of the meeting, create a basic agenda that defines the meeting goals, non-goals and format and explicitly appoints a meeting facilitator and a meeting note-taker (two different people).
- Create a “table read” document, that will be read during the meeting in order to provide all participant with the shared context needed to accomplish the meeting’s goals. This differs from a “pre-read” in that there’s no expectation that the document will be read ahead of the meeting.
- Read and comment on the “table read” — this is done during the meeting. Participants read the doc and post comments and questions in the doc. Then they read other participants’ comments and questions. The facilitator monitors the process and tags specific individuals that are best equipped to answer particular questions.
- Facilitator synthesizes comments and leads discussion — identifying the themes in the comments, the facilitator triages them and leads a discussion on the themes that will make the best use of the attendees’ time.
The silent meeting format has its boundaries. It will not work well the meeting aims to address interpersonal dynamics, be an inspirational talk, or cover a broad/multi-issue agenda. It also doesn’t address more systemic meeting issues such as having a true need for a meeting, to begin with, the right attendees, and a clear decision-making process.
A good “Table Read” is a vertical document (Word/Gdoc) rather than a horizontal one (PPT/Keynote), often covering the following topics:
- Meeting agenda
- Problem/Situation background
- Solution principles/parameters
- Options identified that can solve the problem
- Discussion questions
- Appendix/ add’l info
Lastly, a silent meeting is not without pitfalls, particularly around the key interventions/format changes that it introduces: bad facilitation, low-quality table read, or ineffective handling of comments (including lack of follow-through) will likely lead to a silent meeting not accomplishing its goals.