Running effective team meetings (feat. written discussions)

A note for new subscribers: This post is part of a series on my notes on technology product management (this is what I do for a living). You might notice that these posts often link to older posts in the series on LinkedIn even though they are all available on this blog. That is intended for folks who only want to follow future product management related posts. Finally, for all those of you who don’t build tech products for a living, I believe many of these notes have broader applicability. And I hope you find that to be the case as well…


A quick overview of what we’ve covered on “Notes on Product Management” so far – 


A quick recap on the 2 dysfunctions of a team

In the last post, I shared the 2 most common dysfunctions of a product team – 

(1) Absence of shared context. Everyone in the product team is paid to make decisions. It is impossible to make good decisions when you are missing context. A simple test – can everyone on the team confidently articulate the problem statement, our desired solution, and the key data points that give us conviction?

 (2) A lack of deep trust and care. If people in the team don’t trust others to make the right decisions, we’re going to frequently find ourselves in decision making bottlenecks. A simple test – would your Eng/Design/Data/Marketing partners trust you to make the right calls on their behalf? Would you do the same?

After laying these out, I shared 2 powerful tools to deal with these dysfunctions –

(1) Start the collaboration with an effective Kick off (previous post)

(2) Run effective weekly/bi-weekly update meetings (this post)

Kick Offs help us start our teams/initiatives off with positive momentum as they ensure we start our collaboration with shared context and an understanding of each other – which provides the foundations for trust. However, the power of a great kick off doesn’t last forever. An effective weekly or bi-weekly team meeting helps us keep the momentum going.

Let’s start with getting 2 things out of the way –

  • Who attends? For most IC PMs, it is helpful to invite everyone who is on the product team. This will typically include your cross-functional partners, any partner PMs, and all the engineering ICs. For senior IC PMs (typically late SPMs or PPMs) who are leading multiple connected initiatives and x-functional teams, it may not be possible to involve every engineering IC on a weekly or bi-weekly cadence. So, it might make sense to split the meetings into a monthly with all ICs and weekly/bi-weekly with the x-functional leads.
  • How often? Can be monthly or bi-weekly or weekly depending on how well you use the time/shipping cadence of your team. There’s no “right” answer. Similar note on length – they can last anywhere between 30 mins – 1 hour. I’ve personally found 45′ to be a sweet spot.

With that out of the way, let’s move to the elements of an effective weekly meeting.

The 4 elements of an effective weekly meeting

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After years of experimenting with weekly meetings, my formula for a weekly meeting has 4 elements. Of course, we all operate in different contexts, cultures, and with different working styles. So, while some of the principles will hold, your mileage with specific tactics will vary:

(1) Clarify the purpose – for ourselves and others

Derived from the 2 dysfunctions of the team, effective bi-weekly/weekly meetings focus primarily on shared context and tackle deep trust and care as an ancillary benefit. 

The reason for this is that trust is a complicated beast and isn’t one we can tackle explicitly every meeting. Here’s why:

  • The best definition I’ve heard for trust is: “Trust is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else.”
  • We choose to trust folks when we know and understand them. That trust means we assume good intentions every time they act. That is why taking the time to get to know people while sharing what you’re all about is critical. When people understand us, they begin to trust us – or choose to make something important to us vulnerable to their actions – and vice versa. This is where kick-offs and introductory 1:1s (see post) help.
  • The trust that is built in us grows when the team sees consistency over time. This is the role effective weekly meetings play. Trust is thus the by-product of a good product.
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(2) Keep a consistent agenda that ladders up to this purpose

This is definitely the area where your mileage may vary significantly. I’ve come to appreciate the value of consistently building an agenda with the following pieces:

(a) [Optional] Start with some form of kudos/recognition. These are useful because they help highlight individual work while also naturally helping everyone understand key milestones/wins. The only caveat here is that the effectiveness of this depends on the size of the team. It doesn’t work as an agenda item when the team is too small or too large. I don’t have a rule of thumb for what constitutes “too small” or “too large” – so, it is one of those things you’ll learn after you try it over 3-4 meetings.

(b) [Required] Share any context/updates from leadership or the broader org: If there is anything that impacts the team – e.g., a new strategic priority, an org change from a partner team, an important meeting, etc. – take the time to share this with the team so everyone has the context. If these were sent via email, it helps to share that with the group in advance as well in case there are any questions.

 (c) [Required] Go through key product changes and/or lessons learnt. This is the most important part of the meeting. It helps build shared context and ensures we’re operating well. There are a few things that help here:

  • Go through every key product change in sufficient details – this includes giving the team context on the problem we’re solving, walking through designs and hypotheses, and sharing any results. This helps others connect the dots and follow up where there are questions/disconnects.
  • Share insights from research/customer calls/user data, etc. Again, it helps folks connect the dots.
  • Finally, the insights/discussion from this meeting should go into the team’s weekly update and/or executive update. This ensures everyone is on the same page on what is being communicated.

(d) [Required] Understand impact or changes to key metrics/results. The products we ship are in the service of making a positive impact to users, customers, and the business – we measure this impact with key metrics/results. So, it is imperative that we spend time on a weekly basis talking about key metrics/results. In case of new teams where these metrics aren’t baked yet, it helps to have a clear ETA for when these metrics will be ready. In the meantime, individual experiment metrics can work. 

(e) [Optional] Leave time for “special topics” – discussions on key documents or decisions: This may not be a standing agenda item but it is helpful to carve out time for readouts on key experiments, strategy or design changes, and/or go-to-market updates.  

(3) Showcase urgency by standing up and by facilitating written discussions

 “Showcase urgency” is easier said than done. 2 things that I’d recommend –

(a) Stand up (i.e., physically): There’s something about standing up that helps us become more intentional about our time and bring a sense of urgency to the meeting.

(b) Facilitate written discussions (instead of “round-the-rooms”): Whenever you have a topic to discuss, default to written discussions.

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What is a written discussion? It involves sharing a prompt with the group and having everyone share their point-of-view on a shared spreadsheet. Then, you go through the spreadsheet live, aggregate themes, and drive discussion around those themes. Here’s an example spreadsheet.

These discussions are more effective (you have an open discussion on themes in everyone’s POV and get to the best answer), efficient (you hear all POVs without going around the room), and equitable (the discussion is focused on ideas vs. who is most willing to speak up).

(4) Collect feedback/iterate

Every quarter, dedicate 15′ in your meeting to facilitate a written discussion about the meeting itself. Ask folks for 1 thing they appreciate and 1 thing they’d like to change about the meeting. Asking for 1 thing forces prioritization and any themes you notice in the feedback will be very valuable. 

A big part of running “effective meetings” for any group is to keep evolving them as the nature of work and camaraderie on the team evolves. Change is the only constant. 

Geography defines so much

“The geography of where we are born and where we get to live defines so much. Not smarter or better. Just luckier.”

I saw this tweet from a friend and it resonated.

I’m still processing the Russian invasion on Ukraine and have had a collection of thoughts swirling through my mind in the past 2 days.

In the meanwhile, though, this note on The Atlantic – “A Prayer for Volodymyr Zelensky” resonated deeply. The courage of the Ukranian people and their President has been incredible to see.

Accepting constraints so they don’t feel constraining

“Some Zen Buddhists hold that the entirety of human suffering can be boiled down to this effort to resist paying full attention to the way things are going, because we wish they were going differently (“This shouldn’t be happening!”), or because we wish we felt more in control of the process.

There is a very down-to-earth kind of liberation in grasping that there are certain truths about being a limited human from which you’ll never be liberated. You don’t get to dictate the course of events. And the paradoxical reward for accepting reality’s constraints is that they no longer feel so constraining.” | Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks

Beautiful and true.

Narratives and consistency

I have followed the English Premier League closely for the best part of two decades as a Manchester United fan. There were years when I used to catch every Manchester United game – that hasn’t been the case since our kids arrived. But I still catch highlights as often as possible and follow the news closely. I’ve learnt three lessons along the way:

(1) Don’t read too much into early excitement/narratives without proof. This is the most enduring lesson I’ve learnt. It is so easy to get excited about the new thing. New manager or player comes in. Everyone gets excited. The first three games go great. More excitement – the new person can do no wrong. Then reality hits. Before you know it, the narrative flips. Everyone moves onto the next thing.

This has happened so often that I’ve learnt to completely ignore early narratives without proof.

(2) Consistency in the long run is the only thing that matters. The quote I think of is – people come for the magic and stay for the math. In the long run, it is the consistency in delivering numbers (goals, saves, points) that counts. The rest is gravy.

(3) Most things look cooler from the outside. In my years following the Premier League from Asia, I used to envy supporters who got to watch matches live. You can imagine how excited I was about an early career opportunity to live in London. It felt like a dream come true.

I watched some really exciting games during my time in the UK. It was a great experience. But as I got close to the culture around watching games live, I realized it wasn’t for me. There’s a lot of identity wrapped around being a fan that does funny things to people. For example, I had a friend send some fairly hostile messages during a game where we were on opposing sides.

Then there was another incident where a player got hurt and I heard the opposition fans chant “Let him die.” Turns out that is far from the worst chant you might hear in high-profile games.

I’d still love to watch a game or two live in the coming years. But that’s about as close as I’d want to get to being a live supporter. It isn’t for me. And it has been a great reminder of the idea that most things look cooler from the outside.

A lesson – like the other two – that applies well beyond football.


At some point in the past couple of years, the number of daily spam calls I received went up noticeably. All of a sudden, I was dealing with multiple spam calls every day.

While some of these were recognizable (they had the same area code as the place where I first got a sim card – which is different from the area I lived in), others weren’t.

Enter Truecaller. I re-discovered Truecaller and, right after installation, it changed the game. I still get ~2 spam calls every day (I think Truecaller blocks the rest) but they’re marked as “Spam Risk” or “Telemarketer.”

Every time I see a Truecaller tagged number, I am reminded of how a “simple” service – a working spam filter – can be magical when it just works.

Reframing mistakes

We tried something for the first time recently. We made a couple of mistakes in the process.

Just as we began talking about these mistakes, we chose to refer to them as learning. It was our first time – we were bound to make a few mistakes.

It is amazing how such a simple reframing changed the narrative and the tone of the conversation. It went from useless speculation about how we made the mistakes to what we needed to do the next time. From blame to constructive discussion in an instant.

If the narrative isn’t working for us, it might just be time to change it.

I don’t mind what happens

There’s a lovely anecdote from a talk by the late Jiddu Krishnamurthi, a spiritual teacher, shared by the writer Jim Dreaver.

Part way through this particular talk, Krishnamurti suddenly paused, leaned forward, and said, almost conspiratorially, “Do you want to know what my secret is?” Almost as though we were one body we sat up, even more alert than we had been, if that was possible. I could see people all around me lean forward, their ears straining and their mouths slowly opening in hushed anticipation.

Krishnamurti rarely ever talked about himself or his own process, and now he was about to give us his secret! He was in many ways a mountaintop teacher—somewhat distant, aloof, seemingly unapproachable, unless you were part of his inner circle. Yet that’s why we came to Ojai every spring, to see if we could find out just what his secret was. We wanted to know how he managed to be so aware and enlightened, while we struggled with conflict and our numerous problems.

There was a silence. Then he said in a soft, almost shy voice, “You see, I don’t mind what happens.”

So much of learning to live better is learning to make peace with what we don’t control.

It resonated.

Discipline during breaks

Growing up, I associated discipline with things that sounded like work – study, exercise, etc.

Discipline matters at work of course – it defines our work ethic.

But I’ve since come to appreciate the importance of discipline in relation to breaks as well. Prioritizing breaks and making sure we’re switching off and staying present in our break is also discipline that counts.

Now more than ever.