3 Creative Meeting Formats To Make Your Whole Team More Effective

Most meetings are passive experiences: One or two people talking and everyone else listening. These three alternatives can change that.

3 Creative Meeting Formats To Make Your Whole Team More Effective
[Photo: jacoblund/iStock]

Let’s face it–you’ll never be able to stop going to meetings altogether. There are times when you just need to gather a bunch of your colleagues in a room (or on a video chat) to hash things out in real time. But chances are you can replace your least productive meetings with more effective ones. Here are three new formats that can help get your team out of a rut and back on track.


1. Goalfest

No one likes status-update meetings. So when design leader Joel Califa was hired as a first-time manager at cloud computing platform DigitalOcean, he decided to try something different. “No one knew what anyone else was doing, and I didn’t have a way to measure our team’s performance. I wanted visibility,” Califa recalls. So he invented a meeting form called “goalfest.”

Related: Ask These 9 Questions Before Every Meeting To Avoid Wasting Time

In an hourlong meeting on Thursday afternoons, Califa would gather his team of seven designers, and they’d jump into a shared Google spreadsheet. Everyone would set and share their self-directed goals for the following week and score themselves on how well they completed the previous week’s goals, on a scale of one to five. By allowing his team to set their own goals publicly and hold themselves accountable, Califa, who now works at GitHub, found he could make sure the meeting belonged to them, rather than to him as their manager.


Here’s what a blank “goalfest” spreadsheet might look like, with color-coding to emphasize the 1–5 rankings on how well each goal has been completed. Check out this editable spreadsheet for more. [Image: Joel Califa]
Over time, Califa’s team added a “lessons learned” section to their shared document, meant to identify patterns in what was and wasn’t working–for example: “QA always takes longer than you think,” or, “Don’t jump into high fidelity too soon.” The goalfest meeting format has gone on to be adopted by teams at Facebook and BuzzFeed, and the Swedish design firm Nordnet has raved about it.

Goalfest isn’t a passive meeting–it only works when everyone takes part. But Califa thinks it’s worth the effort, crediting it with taking his team “from medium performing to high performing” over the course of a few months. He’s posted an example spreadsheet on his blog for anyone who’s curious about trying it out.

Related: This Silicon Valley–Style Meeting Can Transform Your Whole Team


2. Masterminds

Buffer’s workforce is distributed, with staff working remotely all over the world. So the social media management platform has developed a meeting format they call “masterminds,” which pairs up two team members for regular coaching and support. The meeting format began as a way for cofounders Joel Gascoigne and Leo Widrich to stay connected and discuss big issues for the business, but they found it so helpful that they introduced it to the rest of the team.

According to Buffer’s Courtney Seiter, the format can vary, but one common structure is a one-hour session broken into two parts:

  1. 20 minutes to share and celebrate your achievements (10 minutes per participant)
  2. 40 minutes to discuss your current top challenges (20 minutes each)

“The goal isn’t to solve one another’s problems, but instead to gently probe through active listening and asking questions,” Seiter told me by email. Similar to “rubber-duck” debugging in programming, this method can generate new ideas and solutions you hadn’t been able to see. “It’s surprising how often the person solves their own challenge through this process,” Seiter adds.


3. Wins Meetings

A 2011 study examined 26 project teams from seven different companies, and found that celebrating small wins can have an outsize impact on team motivation. Since then, several organizations have adapted this idea to hold regular “wins” meetings–designed strictly to recognize small milestones. At my former employer Percolate, the entire team would gather for drinks on Fridays, and everyone would go around and commend one other person or team for a recent “win.” We kept at it for years, even as the company grew beyond 150 employees.

This is a popular meeting format because everyone leaves feeling really good about themselves and their teams.

At MICRO, a nonprofit that installs six-foot-tall science museums in public spaces like airports and hospitals, the team gets together for “Formal Fridays,” where bragging about an achievement is mandatory. On certain days they might wear black tie, but most days they just wear hats. According to cofounder Amanda Schochet, it’s been a fun way to keep their team, which is split between New York and California, connected. As a bonus, they’ve accumulated a bunch of silly screenshots of the team wearing things on their heads.


[Photo: MICRO]
Knotel, which operates a network of designed and managed working spaces, uses a wins meeting to reinforce its values. According to VP of Growth Trevor Clark, as the company grew, leadership looked for ways to keep everyone moving fast without falling out of sync on what the company stands for. “We wanted to roll this out in a way so that people understood how these values related to their job–that it was more than just hitting their numbers,” Clark explains.

One of Knotel’s values is to “don’t look away,” which simply means to care about the details, even if it just means improving something by another 1%. taking that to heart, Clark noticed that “our one-pager was a little outdated and too filled with jargon. I thought I could improve it and made a 0.1 version that I tested with a client. It worked well, I sent it out to marketing, and now it’s getting rolled out across the team.” Knotel’s wins meetings are designed to recognize contributions like these, which may start small but add up to something significant.

If there’s one thing these three meeting formats share, it’s the habit of making the meeting valuable for the entire team, not just the organization or the manager in charge. If your meetings aren’t giving everyone a chance to feel valued, set their own priorities, and reflect on how they can improve, you might want to rethink your approach.

About the author

Jason Shen is a 3x startup founder, TED speaker, and product leader at a major technology company. He does research and advocacy work on behalf of Asian Americans and serves on the board of the Presidential Innovation Fellows Foundation