Meetings...yuck. What a terrible word to start a blog post. When we started Ample in 2008, we rebelled against the tyranny of the meeting. We danced in the streets until midnight. Fireflies begged for an encore. Wait...only some of that is true. Meetings actually found their rightful time and place within the agency.

One of these meetings, a recurring half-hour type, brought great value to our design team. This team currently consists of three individuals in three cities working on projects asynchronously. How exactly is this a team, you might ask? Surprisingly, it’s not too dissimilar to any of the digital design agencies I’ve worked with in the past. Sure, this is the first where the majority is remote, but the main challenge is the same: How do you create an environment of teamwork and camaraderie when the only person who interacts with each member is the one (yours truly) overseeing it?

You guessed it, a meeting (dammit). Throughout this post, I include thoughts from both Nic and Austin, the two other UX Designers at Ample. Like this nugget from Nic:

“Meetings get a bad rep because they are often used poorly. There is great value in setting time to be intentional with a group of people, whether peers or clients, and focusing on them. I think our weekly design meeting as well as the all-staff daily ‘stand up’ meeting helps keep me connected to my colleagues.”

Relationships are intentional

Relationships don’t just happen, at least not meaningful ones. In order for the team to forge any type of community, we need facetime. And more than that, we need opportunities to express our thoughts, learn from one another, share work, and ask questions. 

Part of that is figuring out what makes people comfortable, less guarded. For Austin it’s the informal structure: “It’s great to be able to spend time with my team in a more casual, less defined setting.”

For Nic, it’s the fact that it’s an easy way to talk about industry changes or life updates: 

“It is one of the small and consistent ways to connect to your team and feel included, especially in a remote setting.”

I want the design team to know that I see them, I hear them, and I value them. It’s incredible how such a small amount of dedicated time opens the door to great working relationships. 

How to conduct a team building practice

Theory only goes so far. I love application. If you’re interested in implementing (or getting your director to do) something like this, it’s way easier than you might think.

  1. Pick a date and a cadence then set the meeting to reoccur. Keep it short and adjust as needed. We do 30 minutes every Friday afternoon. 
  2. Be ready with a topic. Maybe you bring up a great article, video or new tool/service. Sometimes it’s nice to share recent work. It’s also a great way to bring in team members from other departments to talk about themselves or address an important issue. Or have each person grab something off their desk and make a sales pitch. We always need work on our soft skills.
  3. Open with a conversation starter. The easiest thing for anyone to talk about is themselves. On occasion, our meeting will never get out of this stage. And if building camaraderie is a core goal, that’s totally fine. 
  4. End with updates or announcements. Wrap up with things to look forward to the next week. Or the ever popular, “How are you doing with your timesheets?”
  5. Don’t give up. Building a team takes time. Be patient. 

Occasionally, I’ll send homework ahead of the meeting. But most of the time, I keep it a surprise. Why? The ability to think quickly is a crucial skill in business meetings, might as well practice in a safe place. Nic agrees: “Some of my favorite meetings have been some of the more random ones.” As does Austin:

“I mostly never know what we are going to talk about during these meetings, which is great because it turns it into an open discussion where we are able to bring up anything that has sparked our interest during the week.”

There you have it. I started in hard on I leave inviting you to one. If you’d like to talk shop, contact me and we’ll set something up. But let's keep it a half-hour. 😉

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