Book Summary for Meeting Design


I was anxious to dig into this book for so many reasons. While there are loads of design and development books there are far fewer guides for these types of process and collaboration topics. Meetings are hard and I would argue that it’s an area part-time folks have to be especially efficient in; we only work a bit during the week and cannot spend all this precious time treading water in poorly designed meetings.

This book starts out framing the problem at hand: meetings are too often unproductive and have become “a lazy reflex”. We show up to as many as possible yet feel no sense of accomplishment or any better off. The solution here is mapped out in two parts: “The Theory and Practice of Meeting Design” and “Designed Meetings”.

The cover for Meeting Design: For Managers, Makers, and Everyone

The first part walks through how to think about and tackle meetings from a design perspective: by identifying the problem the meeting is intending to solve, revisiting and experimenting with format, and making changes to or abandoning the meeting if necessary. One example of a design constraint all meetings have is the human memory. There are different types of memory we utilize in meetings and this capacity varies from person to person, which is why setting a deliberate, consistent, and slower pace will prove most successful regarding knowledge retention.

Some additional areas to consider as a facilitator and meeting designer are carrying out flexible agendas, managing discomfort, asking the right questions, and finding a facilitation style. Meetings describe, define, and have the capability to change an organization’s culture and are worth putting a lot more attention, care, and planning into. An example provided mentions “postmortems” specifically and how these are handled within an organization—do these turn into finger pointing and blame sessions? If so what does that say about the established culture?

The second part is intended to be “a basic cookbook, rather than a recipe book” in your journey to hosting better project beginning, middle, and end meetings. These final chapters discuss goals, measurements for success, and include handy sample agendas. From sales meetings to daily scrums to postmortems this book will help guide you through the essential meetings that make up a productive collaboration and possibly even introduce you to some new ones to try out; “Lean Coffee Check-In” anyone?

Greatest Takeaways

Meetings largely have a bad reputation but are crucial for completing projects and fostering connected teams. I think these negative connotations stem from the use of meetings as a method of control, from endless standups, and an effort to retain a (false) sense of efficiency. Because of this I’ve personally experienced more and more people dismissing meetings entirely, which is not the answer. The right meetings carried out in the right manner can result in great things and satisfied attendees.

Another point that stood out to me is that design work is easy to have a gut reaction to (COLORS!) which can lead to chronically interrupted and frustrating meetings when presenting anything. As designers and engineers we so often try many different scenarios before settling on the right one to solve a problem, but can easily forget that we need to share this journey with stakeholders as well to gain support. This is all a recipe for perfectly tragic meetings and this book provides very realistic and actionable advice on how to make this all better as a facilitator, from creating a flexible agenda to managing conflicts and tangents.

Favorite Quotes

“Meetings can create great outcomes if you want them to: new ideas, better strategies, stronger relationships, good decisions, and organizational changes. These outcomes come from being intentional with the time you spend together. Meeting design is the practice of expressing that intention.”

“A meeting affords tremendous capabilities for communication, but not all problems require this much communication to address.”

“Tangents can feel frustrating, but good tangents are one of the best things that come out of meetings.”

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