A Magical Meeting Story from Leadership Coach and Author, Petra Wille
Welcome to Magical Meetings Stories, a series where I chat with professional facilitators, meeting practitioners, leaders, and CEOs across industries about their meeting culture. We dive deep into a specific magical meeting they’ve run, including their approach to facilitation design, and their tips and tricks for running meetings people thrive in.
Today’s story is with Petra Wille, an independent product leadership coach and author of Strong Product People: A Complete Guide to Developing Great Product Managers who has been helping product teams boost their skill sets and up their game since 2013. Alongside her freelance work, Petra co-organizes and curates Mind the Product Engage Hamburg, Germany.
“There’s a saying from the world of coaching: ‘You can’t push the car you’re sitting in.’ It’s the same principle – if, as a product manager, you spot patterns emerging before everyone else, it’s because you’re not really a part of the team. And that’s an advantage you should put to good use.” -Petra Wille
I spoke with Petra about a meeting she designed called Team Radar, the purpose of the meeting, what it helped accomplish, and why it was so powerful.
Showing is Better than Telling
Team Radar was originally prompted when Petra realized she was missing some of the tools and meeting structures she needed to be an effective lateral leader to her product development team. She was searching for a structure that could help her surface topics in a retrospective without dictating the group discussion or directly providing her recommended solution or ideal outcome. Rather, she wanted a way to have the team working on the project or deliverables be able to discuss and ideate, as the direct team can usually come up with workable solutions that work best for them. She wanted to provide the framework to productively discuss and show them that they could figure out the problem on their own, rather than her simply telling them a solution.
“You know that moment when you realize that something is not quite right in the team? Often you think you know straight away what needs improvement, but for some reason, the team can’t see what you’re seeing. What’s wrong with them? It’s so obvious!
There’s nothing wrong with them. There’s a saying from the world of coaching: ‘You can’t push the car you’re sitting in.’ It’s the same principle – if, as a product manager, you spot patterns emerging before everyone else, it’s because you’re not really a part of the team. And that’s an advantage you should put to good use.” -Petra Wille
Petra explained an Agile coach recommended she utilize a spider web graphic with eight axes, with labels for each “leg” (or axis) and a scale (1-7) for each of the axes. Each axis represents a topic to be discussed in the meeting as shown in the example below:
This structure helps Petra set up some of the topics to have the team discuss them, but then also gives her a chance to observe their take on them rather than her influencing the discussion or decisions. “I was on the lookout for a facilitation method to actually bring this conversation up without me telling them what to do because there was no right or wrong. I was fine with either way, but I wanted them to discuss it to avoid this tension building up,” she said.
Petra has used the Team Radar meeting with various teams she’s coached and worked with. She explained that the meeting purpose varies depending on the specific team situation she’s working with, but that it is fundamentally designed around gaining alignment, understanding, and clarity. “The purpose of this meeting is that a team of people discusses several topics and that somebody else sees what’s in it for them. So, do they consider it a problem? Do they think they’re doing fine and it’s not something we need to tackle now? It’s a management tool, actually, more or less.”
Let’s take a closer look at Petra’s process to learn what made this meeting magical.
Petra’s outline for how to prepare for the Team Radar retrospective meetings:
- The meeting leader or facilitator should plan the Team Radar graphic and topics beforehand on a flip chart – this way, it can be hung up afterward for reference (if you’re in a physical office with the team). Alternatively, more advanced teams can decide on the topics during the meeting. If the meeting is being held virtually, MURAL or Miro (virtual whiteboard collaboration tools) can be utilized instead
- Bring pens and Post-Its in four different colors (if holding the meeting in person).
- The leader, moderator or facilitator should also put some thought into how they want to open up and introduce the meeting. This is where they set the stage for the meeting.
- Ensure to send a calendar invite blocking off enough time. Petra recommends 2 hours for an 8 axes exercise, or 1 hour for 4 axes.
- If you’re having the meeting in an office, book a room with plenty of wall space for all those Post-It notes!
Petra recommends holding the Team Radar meeting once a quarter, depending on team needs, with no more than 10 people in attendance (but also depending on team needs and team size). Attendees are typically made up of a cross-functional group or the delivery team, including product managers, engineers, and designers. The meetings can be held in-person or virtually, and are typically structured in the following way:
- The moderator or facilitator starts by introducing the meeting and setting the stage (as mentioned above).
- Then they’ll take the team through the Team Radar infographic–either on the flip chart, a whiteboard, or virtual collaboration tool if the meeting is being held remotely. The facilitator should plan to cover the following:
- Why were the listed topics chosen? Context should be given around reasoning. If the team is more advanced, the topics can be agreed upon by everyone together during this step instead.
- Ask the team to assign and agree on a rating (1-7) for each topic. Ratings could be confidence level in the topic, future outlook, etc. This will vary by team and organization, and should be defined and communicated by the facilitator. Note: Don’t spend more than 10 minutes on each axis.
- Decide who will write notes on the Post-Its. Petra recommends utilizing the different colors for organizational purposes, such as blue for positive comments and pink for negative.
- Next, the team discussion occurs, starting with the first axis and working through all eight, topic by topic, rating by rating.
- Once all topics have been discussed, connect any dots or determine which topics have scored negatively and why.
- Gauge general sentiment from the team – ask the team to indicate via quick feedback or thumb voting if a topic is improving or if they expect it to get worse.
- Finally, derive and assign action items for 2-3 of the topics. Start with topics that scored the worst (or lowest) and note what steps can and should be taken next.
Outcomes and Deliverables
I asked Petra what outcomes and deliverables come out of these Team Radar meetings. She mentioned the two key outcomes being “aha moments” and action items. The “aha moments” will come as a result of learning what others on the team think about particular topics. The action items are especially useful for future improvement, as the lowest-ranked topics should be prioritized in the discussion.
There are a few tools Petra uses to create magic and connection in these meetings:
- Whiteboards or flip charts – this is how the Team Radar graphic is documented and displayed if the meeting is in person
- Post-Its: Used for note taking on each topic and rating (organize by color)
- MURAL or Miro – These tools can be utilized if the meeting is virtual or hybrid, in place of the physical whiteboards, flip charts and Post-Its
An Alignment Initiative
We also discussed what makes this meeting unique, along with what Petra is most proud of related to Team Radar.
“I think it’s the only type of retrospective I know where you can set a topic. So if you as a product manager or Agile coach want to talk about something, then that is a way to really set the stage without influencing the team too much about their take on that,” she said.
She mentioned she’s most proud of the fact that it helps teams discuss underlying or broader issues in a productive way. Even if the meeting doesn’t end with a ton of action items that are being solved immediately, it helps with team building and is an alignment initiative.
I like to end these Magical Meeting Series conversations by asking where there’s opportunity for improvement or what else could be done if the interviewee were to be really bold. Petra said she sees teams usually start with the obvious topics, but would love to encourage more philosophical or high-level topics on the axes. That, she says, is when the most interesting and productive conversations happen.