Meeting Design

For Managers, Makers, and Everyone

By Kevin M. Hoffman

  • Meeting Design Cover
  • Meetings don’t have to be painfully inefficient snoozefests—if you design them. Meeting Design will teach you the design principles and innovative approaches you’ll need to transform meetings from boring to creative, from wasteful to productive. Meetings can and should be indispensable to your organization; Kevin Hoffman will show you how to design them for success.

    In any company, meetings are the hub of business thinking and action, and yet we tend to spend very little time thinking about their structure. Meeting Design is a fun, clear, and thorough guide to designing better meetings, to make them more productive, engaging, and effective. This is a fantastic book for anyone who wants to get more out of meetings.

    Dave Gray,  XPLANE.com

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    Illustrations View all on Flickr

    • MD001: Front Cover
    • MD002: Figure i.1
    • MD003: Figure 1.1
    • MD004: Figure 1.2
    • MD005: Figure 1.3
    • MD006: Figure 1.4
    • MD007: Figure 2.2
    • MD008: Figure 2.3

    Meeting Design Blog View all Blog posts

    Table of Contents

    • Chapter 1: How to Design a Meeting
    • Chapter 2: The Design Constraint of All Meetings
    • Chapter 3: Build Agendas Out of Ideas, People, and Time
    • Chapter 4: Manage Conflict with Facilitation
    • Chapter 5: Facilitation Strategy and Style
    • Chapter 6: Better Meetings Lead to Better Organizations
    • Chapter 7: Get Started with Beginning Meetings
    • Chapter 8: Chart the Course Using Middle Meetings
    • Chapter 9: Find Closure with End Meetings

    Foreword

    When I was commuting regularly to New York City for work, I’d look at my calendar on the train ride in and see what meetings lay ahead. Based on how productive I felt each one was going to be, I’d plan out how to pass the time in the meeting. For most, I figured I could knock out some email on my phone under the table. For a couple, I could probably get away with answering some questions from my team in chat. For one, two max, I knew I’d have to pay attention and participate and, in all likelihood, show up prepared.

    Why? What was the difference between these meetings where I knew I could tune out versus the ones where I’d have to lean in?
    Let’s face it—most of my meetings were awful. They were hastily called, poorly planned, and involved far too many people to yield any kind of traction. So what’s the solution? It seems to be more meetings. When you add in every company’s adoption of Agile rituals—stand- ups, iteration planning meetings, and retrospectives—and multiply that times the number of projects each person supports, it becomes a miracle that anything actually ever gets done at work.

    And yet, to do our best work, collaboration is required. It’s a successful company’s secret weapon. We need to meet with our colleagues, hear their opinions, debate options, and make clear the decisions on the next steps.

    But how many meetings have you attended recently that actually yielded concrete next steps and felt like a good use of your time? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably pretty low. Creating great meetings is a people problem. It requires empathy for the participants, as well as a clear sense of their goals and the decision-making framework for not only deciding how to structure the meeting but whether one should happen at all.

    In the software world, we advocate for changing our mindset from one focused on outputs—delivering features—to one motivated to drive outcomes—meaningful and measurable changes in customer behaviors. This mindset reshapes our definition of “done.” The same model can be applied to meetings. In some organizations, the measure of success for some people is how many meetings they attend (i.e., output). The goal is, seemingly, to spend as much time in meetings to showcase the individual’s productivity, importance, and contributions. How do we know that this contribution yielded anything positive to the cause we’re pursuing? Just because the meetings took place doesn’t mean that we had an impact of any kind on the success of our team, project, or company.

    Instead, how can we figure out what outcomes our colleagues are trying to achieve by attending this meeting? Our job should be to design solutions that help them reach those outcomes. Sometimes that will be a meeting. In other cases, it might be some other activity or no activity at all.

    In Meeting Design, Kevin lays out exactly how to take on meetings as a design problem, but you don’t have to be a designer to appreciate this advice. He deftly illustrates how the designer’s toolkit—a collection of questions, activities, and conversations—can be applied to create the best outcomes for these age-old activities.

    Kevin applies design thinking in tactical ways to teach you how to learn what your colleagues truly need. His approach lays out tactic after tactic for structuring agendas, ensuring broad, active participation, and guaranteeing that no one leaves another meeting again feeling that time was wasted. Perhaps most importantly, he provides a clear way to assess whether a meeting is actually required and how to push back to sharpen its focus or cancel it altogether.

    I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with Kevin personally and professionally. I’ve always been impressed by his balance of detailed research, pragmatism, and sense of humor, which all translate to a remarkably well-thought-out and useful book.

    —Jeff Gothelf, designer, Agile practitioner, and author of
    Sense and Respond: How Successful Organizations Listen to Customers and Create New Products Continuously and Lean UX: Designing Great Products with Agile Teams

    Testimonials

    Kevin Hoffman is the master of meeting design facilitation. After reading his book, I realized my meetings were working against me—turns out just knowing ‘when and who’ isn’t enough of a plan. With Kevin’s guidance, meetings have become more productive and, frankly, more exciting. So before you send your next meeting invitation, read this book.

    Kristina Halvorson
    CEO, Brain Traffic and coauthor, Content Strategy for the Web

    There are a million different ways to think about the design of meetings in the workplace. But as a design professor, I’m using Kevin Hoffman’s book to design better classroom experiences.

    Molly Wright Steenson, Associate Professor, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

    ‘Hey, gang! Let’s have more meetings!’ said no designer ever. Derided as a pointless waste of time (because too often, they are just that), meetings have become to the design process what spinach is to Happy Meals. But in viewing and running our meetings this way, we miss a grand opportunity to connect with our end users and create designs that work. In this essential new book, Kevin Hoffman guides us to approach meetings the same way we approach all our design problems—as problems to be researched, planned for, tested, and solved. In Kevin Hoffman’s hands, business meetings become a powerful tool of design. Read his book, and they will work for you, too.

    Jeffrey Zeldman
    Founder, studio.zeldman and A List Apart

    At last, a book that acknowledges meetings as a DESIGN PROBLEM. Read this. Learn it. Put it into practice. Then thank the author when your group work soars.

    Sunni Brown, best-selling author and Chief Human Potentialist

    It wasn’t until I met Kevin that I realized meetings didn’t have to be painful—in fact, they could be well-designed. In this invaluable book, Kevin lays out a clear, accessible roadmap for his readers, allowing them to make their meetings—and the people in them—work better.

    Ethan Marcotte, designer, ethanmarcotte.com

    Most meetings suck. They suck time, energy, and enthusiasm out of the room. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Kevin teaches us a range of simple techniques for turning meetings from productivity sinks into productivity accelerators. Want to leave your next meeting feeling supercharged and ready to go? Then this book is for you.

    Andy Budd, owner and director of Clearleft

    In any company, meetings are the hub of business thinking and action, and yet we tend to spend very little time thinking about their structure. Meeting Design is a fun, clear, and thorough guide to designing better meetings, to make them more productive, engaging, and effective. This is a fantastic book for anyone who wants to get more out of meetings.

    Dave Gray,  XPLANE.com