~4 min read|
Note: My colleague, Jeff Scott, recently introduced me to the idea of Silent Meetings. The following is largely credited to him - with minor tweaks from me. Thanks Jeff for showing the power of this approach.
A “Silent Meeting” is a meeting where most of the time is spent working and not talking. When done correctly most of the meeting is spent silently working together.
Silent Meetings were championed by the former head of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, as a way to rein in the ubiquitous PowerPoint presentation and make meetings more impactful. At Amazon this has largely been through the use of a 6-page narratively-structured memo, which individuals and then a team spend a considerable amount of time on prior to a meeting. By clearly stating a problem, proposed solutions, challenges, alternatives, and next steps, the meeting is already very focused and might justify the time commitment of all attendees.
At Square, the practice is more akin to how the Olo Pay team has practiced silent meetings, namely, by reviewing a Google doc in silence, asking and answering questions via comments and suggested edits. After 30 minutes of identifying key points that need to be discussed, a short, focused conversation is initiated.
Just because a meeting is silent doesn’t mean that it always looks, feels, or sounds the same. I’ve seen silent meetings used for RFCs, proposals, Amigos, and crowd-sourced notes during presentations.
These are most akin to the Amazon practice. A team member drafts a document outlining a proposal for a new application, service, or database; a major technology adoption or a breaking change to customers; etc. They then support their proposal with at least the following:
Lastly, they generally share this document with their peers prior to circulating it for comment.
This is a team level proposal. In these the following is included in the document:
During the meeting the facilitator will add an Action Item section if required and in the conclusion of the meeting will summarize the findings and follow up on any Action item assignments, etc. These can be floated for comment asynchronously at first with a follow up, decision- making synchronous meeting later.
It’s possible to incorporate silent meetings into Amigo practices.
Each story in a sprint is included in a Gdoc following a template. Members read through the document (in suggestion mode) and edit or comment, flushing out the content. Each team member brings a different context: Design, FE/BE Engineers, SETs all bring different insights and perspectives. Everyone is engaged - at the same time and throughout the document.
As comments slow down and the meeting is one-half to two-thirds over, the facilitator shares their screen and the document is read through aloud. Unresolved comments are discussed and time for additional inquiry is allowed for.
Another way to leverage the silent meeting format is to take notes using a shared document during another presentation. All members can develop an agreed upon common set of notes.
As it is practiced at GitLab, a Gdoc is included with meetings with the agenda and then notes are taken by multiple parties during the meeting. Questions might be poised in the doc prior and these too might be answered all before the meeting has started.
Hi there and thanks for reading! My name's Stephen. I live in Chicago with my wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Want more? See about and get in touch!