Question as Agenda

What portion of our days to we spend in meetings? As faculty we attend department and college meetings, committee meetings, meetings with students, meetings with research peer or our writing groups, professional development meetings, etc. But how many of those meetings are well run…or even necessary (certainly meetings with students and research peers are at the top of the necessary ladder)? how many of these meetings last for hours when a carefully planned agenda and rules of conduct could have cut the meeting time at least in half, if not more?

While PMP-style mangers love to have meetings, others can find meetings toxic – who hasn’t sat in on a meeting that affected the rest of the day or even week (or required a stiff drink to celebrate surviving the meeting)?

Here’s an interesting post from the Culture Hacking blog titled “The simple question that will increase meeting effectiveness.” The key point is that every meeting should be held to address a specific question and only people who can help answer that question should attend the meeting (sounds similar to Steve Jobs’ philosophy of kicking people out of meetings who didn’t absolutely have to be there to engage).

This reminds me of the question approach used during Daily Scrum meetings used in software development companies operating within the Agile Scrum methodology for project management. Every morning the team gathers for a 15 minute meeting. They stand in a circle (standing encourages short meetings) and typically each answer three questions: what have I done since our last meeting? what will I do today? what challenges might I face, or what might I need assistance with? These quick “stand-up” meetings encourage collaboration, accountability, and engagement by every member of the team. And the 15-minute time box encourages brevity and focus.

I use Daily Scrum meetings in many of my student group projects, and I’m also wondering how we might use the question-agenda idea in both the classroom and in helping our students coordinate group project work. I have in the past set up my syllabi, primarily in core, content-heavy courses, around questions we would explore that day in discussion. That works well and seems to help students prepare more effectively and take better notes.

But I can see how this would be really valuable in student group work as well. Students often approach group meetings with no plan or agenda, only a scheduled time to meet. In helping our students self-organize their work, we can encourage them to set agendas for their meetings based on one question they will answer. How might this help students better prepare for the meeting? How might this help them to be more effective collaborators or to accomplish more goals incrementally? Seems like a solid Agile approach worth pursuing.

How might using the question-agenda approach be useful for your meetings or your student group projects? For committee meetings?

Published by

RPR

I teach Professional Writing and Rhetoric in the Department of English at Elon University. Specifically, I teach courses in professional communication and rhetorical theory, publishing, project management, and workplace research methods. My research interests include collaboration strategies in the classroom and workplace, written artifacts that mediate collaboration, and Agile project management strategies. @RPR_Elon on Twitter

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