A Magical Meeting Story from Coach, Speaker, Author and Consultant, Jeff Gothelf
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 Jeff Gothelf–coach, speaker, author & consultant to help organizations build better products and executives build the cultures that create better products. Jeff works with companies of all sizes training them in Lean at scale, the intersection of agile and user experience, and great team collaboration. In addition to public and private workshops, keynotes, and coaching, he is the co-author of the award-winning book Lean UX and the Harvard Business Review Press book Sense & Respond. Most recently Jeff co-founded Sense & Respond Press, a publishing house for practical business books for busy executives. His most recent book, Forever Employable, was published in June 2020.
I spoke with Jeff about a meeting he designed called “Demo Days,” the purpose of the meeting, what it helped accomplish, and why it was so powerful.
“This (meeting) starts to really build much better conversations broadly, across the organizations, because people are up there being honest, on stage on a bi-weekly basis. And I’m super proud of that.” -Jeff Gothelf
The Need for Transparency
As a coach, consultant, and workshop facilitator, Jeff naturally works with a lot of change inside organizations. Some examples include helping clients develop a product or changing the way they work, or implementing a new goal-setting framework. He’s learned through these change-inducing experiences over the years that the more teams can increase the transparency around any behind-the-scenes work being done, the more they can also mitigate questions and anxiety around the work. “If you disappear into a room, and then you pop back out into the public eye of the organization and say, ‘here is the thing that we created and all of you should love it,’ you’re going to fail every single time,” he says.
“If you can show your process, if you can show what you’re learning, if you can show why you’re making the decisions that you’re making, and how that’s impacting the work that you’re doing, people tend to be less defensive. If they can get that in small, incremental chunks, rather than what we used to call in the design world, ta-da design. Ta-da design is, when you disappear into a room for a month, and you come back and you’re like, ‘Ta-da We did it, Don’t you love it?’ And folks don’t always love it,” he elaborates.
This transparency factor is what prompted him to design Demo Days – a recurring meeting format he uses with various clients and has found it valuable each time. For this reason, he encourages companies to have it as a regularly held meeting as opposed to just once. The meeting came about as a way to increase the transparency of the work that the teams he was helping were doing. The main purpose is to showcase how a team works–what they work on and the progress they make–to the rest of the organization that likely doesn’t have as much detailed insight. Jeff explains that sometimes that progress can also be a learning process. For example, if a team tried something that didn’t work, they could share why it didn’t work, what they learned from it, and what they would like to do differently or test next. For this reason, the Demo Days meeting makes possible a type of permission for teams to be more creative and innovative, he says.
Let’s take a closer look at Jeff’s process to learn what made this meeting magical.
Jeff outlined some ground rules for the Demo Days meeting that should be communicated to the participants prior to the meeting so they know what to expect:
- Don’t over prepare: This is not a one and done meeting
- Show what you have: Whatever you have ready that day
- Be open and honest about the work: For example, openly share if you’re light on content because it was a busy week or others were out
- Talk about the work in terms of learnings: How has what’s been done taught you or the team something? What did you learn this week?
- Set expectations around what will be done with the learnings in the coming weeks or next cycle or time period
- Allow time at the end for questions
Additionally, before the meeting, a signup sheet should be sent out and the people or teams that want to present should sign up for the meeting date and topic, with 2-3 teams presenting each meeting.
In terms of the meeting attendees, Jeff recommends inviting everyone at the organization, as a core purpose of Demo Days is to update and inform others about what your team is working on. Of course, this will be less feasible at corporations with thousands of people, in which case the invite list could be your team, a couple of other relevant peer teams, your boss, and their boss (for example). The ideal cadence is bi-weekly or monthly on Fridays for an hour (virtual or in-person), but can be adjusted to fit schedules, projects, and other needs. One specific example Jeff noted as a good time for the meeting was as an end of Sprint activity.
Jeff has found the meetings that work the best are ones with a meeting host or facilitator – this leads to more engagement and overall organization. The meeting host will help facilitate introductions, conversation, and transitions.
A sample Demo Days meeting format is:
- Meeting facilitator kicks off and introduces the presenting team
- Team presents for 5-10 minutes on the key work, progress, updates and learnings on their decided upon time frame (i.e. since the last meeting, on a project that recently concluded, etc.). Sample topics/questions to discuss could include:
- What did your team work on during the last cycle/project/product?
- What did you learn from it?
- What are you going to do next and why?
- Open up to Q&A and discussion with the rest of the attendees
- Meeting facilitator introduces and presents next team
- Repeat presentation and discussion steps until all signed up groups have presented or the scheduled meeting time slot is over
Outcomes and Deliverables
Jeff and I chatted about the outcomes and deliverables to come out of Demo Days. The number one thing he mentioned as an outcome of this meeting was progress, and awareness of that progress. By the end of the meeting, people are able to see the progress being made by other teams. The second outcome is learnings being shared with the other various teams within an organization. Psychological safety and mutual trust were something else he called out because multiple various teams are getting up, being transparent, sharing their work and processes, and not necessarily the end product.
The Uniqueness and the Risks
I asked Jeff what makes this meeting unique:
“This should be a fun meeting. This should be people showing off their work. This should be people laughing at themselves. This is an opportunity to showcase more than just code. You can show designs. You can show experiments. You can show analytics reports. You can show videos from user interviews. You can show experiments that you ran. To me, all of that is really fun and unique about this. There’s some real opportunity to show all the different stuff that goes into building products and services,” he said.
We also discussed potential pitfalls and risks of this meeting. He mentioned the importance of knowing your audience. For example, if the teams presenting in a given week are going to be presenting on lines of code, there’s the necessary element of setting expectations with the rest of the attendees and letting them know ahead of time so they can plan accordingly (or not attend that specific session).
The Value in Demo Days
We ended our conversation by discussing what makes Jeff most proud about this meeting. He says it’s the fact that he’s done Demo Days meetings with so many different types of teams (leadership, innovation, product development, etc.) and after a few cycles, the conversations get better and everyone starts to truly value and look forward to the meetings. “So this starts to really build much better conversations broadly, across the organizations, because people are up there being honest, on stage on a bi-weekly basis. And I’m super proud of that.”
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