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Our first Silent Meeting…

"Most of my meetings are now Google doc-based, starting with 10-minutes of reading and commenting directly in the doc. This practice makes time for everyone to get on the same page, allows us to work from many locations, and gets to truth/critical thinking faster."
— Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square via Twitter on April 19, 2018

Well before the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly forced remote work, distributed teams had adopted the practice of editing Google Workspace or Microsoft 365 documents during meetings as a basis for discussion.  GitLab, a thought leader in this space, formalized the practice of Live Doc Meetings as part of its culture handbook.  Taking this concept a step further and adapting an Amazon practice, David Gasca, senior director of product management at Twitter, detailed the practice of not talking during the first half (or more) of meetings in the Silent Meeting Manifesto.  What is behind this practice?

At Punch, we are always collecting experiences from remote workers across industries and at various levels of remote work maturity.  During one conversation, we spoke with Anusha Murthy, People Partner (formerly referred to as an HR Business Partner) for a business unit of a well-known multi-billion dollar company.  She was planning to support her team members in their first experiment for a Silent Meeting and recommended to us the Eat, Work, Sleep, Repeat podcast for more color on the topic.  In the spirit of enhancing our own remote work maturity, six of us here at Punch did our first Silent Meeting last week. 

As remote work practitioners ourselves, we had already adopted a suite of remote work tools for both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, including Google Workspace, Slack, Zoom, Shuffleboard, Notion, Miro, and Clubhouse.  We adapted a traditional face-to-face and synchronous interaction - the daily standup - to asynchronous check-ins in our #daily-stand Slack channel.  For team connection, we instead chose twice-weekly team meetings without the same strict structure of the daily standup in the Agile method.  We also started bringing habits from our social lives into our work social lives by running weekly "book clubs" (called #learning meetings after our corresponding Slack channel) on Google Meet. 

Still, until our own first Silent Meeting, we were pretty much running internal Google Meet calls and external Zoom calls the same way we did before the pandemic.  In a follow-up survey we did after that first Silent Meeting, all responded that we should conduct some future  meetings this way.  Here were the comments:

"Less talking, more thoughtful, more participation"

"I found that I was able to digest the input and formulate/refine my ideas more deeply than a traditional meeting. It also felt that every participant had an equal opportunity to start a discussion on an item, where often fewer ideas tend to dominate in traditional meetings."

"Everyone is consuming the content at the same time, but at their own pace. Easier to review a section of interest without disrupting other attendees. Comments allow for more focus around a topic and creates "collisions" all over the shared document."

"It was my first time but I liked it. Sometimes talking meetings feel inefficient as only one idea is coming out at a time."

"Also, I have an urge, which I need to work on, to get an idea out to the group before I forget the idea. Often in a meeting, it's sometimes awhile before the current talking point is talked through. Having to hold on to the idea I want to share then distracts me from being fully engaged in the current discussion topic. So although that's a problem I need to personally address, this was nice because it solved this issue too"

"I liked that ideas came out concurrently and that everything can get responded to."

At the same time, most of us explicitly stated that we should not replace our current recurring meetings (our twice-weekly team check-ins and #learning meetings) with the Silent Meeting format, as we benefit from some open discussion.

Our next steps will be to continue to refine our Silent Meeting practices based our survey, and these steps include:

  • Defining the meetings where the Silent Meeting format would be most beneficial, including milestone planning, feedback analysis, and after-action reviews where perspectives and positions can be articulated in advance.
  • Doing even more work on the shared Google Doc up front to more explicitly anticipate areas of discussion and break up certain points into distinct paragraphs to avoid long comment threads with different trains of thought.
  • Providing for some silent signaling for participants to indicate that they have completed their document iterations and are ready to speak.  We were using Google Meet, which has an announced (but not yet delivered) hand raising feature. As such, we've look at tools like the Nod Google Chrome Extension to handle this kind of feature for the future.
  • Improving time management through the "loud" portions of the meeting.  The advantage of Silent Meetings is the speed by which a lot of information is available for discussion.  For the moderator, practice is required to both allow enough time to distill the information into decisions in oral discussion, as well as to develop skills to avoid spending time on issues that don't require further oral discussion.

From a product perspective, our aim is to take the Punch activity intelligence capabilities to profile Silent Meetings and to report on their use, as well as potential areas for further coaching.  If you're interested in our thoughts here, don't hesitate to get in touch!