3. dec 2009 08:19

 I host a software architect group in which we often use a way of structuring our meetings that I - in lack of a really cool name - have termed the descriptive "Emerging Agenda".

The goals of Emerging Agenda are to

  • ensure that everybody expresses something at every meeting¨
  • that the topics discussed are the topics that people think are the most interesting at the moment of the meeting

Emerging Agenda has three phases

      I.   A round table phase during which everybody says something

      II.  A planning phase during which the agenda is determined

      III. A discussion phase during which the selected topics are discussed

Emerging Agenda consists of the following steps

Round table phase 

1)   Every person has the same predetermined timeslot during which they can talk about anything remotely relevant to the subject matter. We started off with 2 minutes timeslots, but have increased it to 5 minutes which seems to be appropriate for our group. During this timeslot they can talk about what they have been working on since the last time we met (most people do that), but they could also talk about something they have found interesting, something they have experienced, a problem they have had or ... It’s completely up to them. Other people might ask questions or make comments, but it is up to the person talking whether they wish to answer the questions or prefer to continue their own line of thought.

2)   Anytime during the round table phase anybody can walk to the whiteboard and write a topic that they think could be a good/relevant/interesting topic. The topic often relates to something that the actively talking person mentions: “Hm – that sounds interesting. I would like to hear more about that. Let me make a note of it on the whiteboard.” But it might also be an unrelated topic. Maybe something you have wanted to discuss for quite some time. When topics are noted on the whiteboard, they are not discussed. This is basically the brainstorming step during which potential topics are collected.

Planning phase

3)   People can now ask for explanations about the topics noted on the whiteboard and we typically ask whether there is something more that people want to have added to the list of potential discussion topics.

4)   Depending on the number of potential discussion topics people now get a number of votes (typically we have three votes each) and then they vote for their favorite topics. You can spend one or multiple votes on each topic. The voting should in principle probably be simultaneous and secret, but we tend to be rather relaxed about that. The voting determines the order in which we discuss the topics. Sometimes the voting process is short circuited if a member has something urgent they would really like to discuss/get input to. In those cases we tend to accept such pleas. Having a concrete problem to discuss is almost always much better than talking about a problem in abstract terms.

Discussion phase

5)   The discussion is typically kicked off by the person suggesting the topic, but after that it is an open non-structured discussion that runs until nobody feels there is anything more to add. When the discussion fades out, we move on to the next topic on the prioritized list and so on and so forth.

Our meetings are half-day meetings and we typically discuss from one to three topics per meeting. Don’t be too ambitious – I personally prefer to have just a couple of really good and thorough discussions than to have lots of superficial discussions with no real value.

We typically go out for a beer and some grub after the meetings. The discussions tend to continue in those aftermath sessions, but they are not to be considered a mandatory part of Emerging Agenda J

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