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Meeting Formats

Page history last edited by sean 11 years ago

Pair-programming format [ Full script/documentation here ] – The session is broken into three parts: a presentation period and two work periods.  After briefly saying what they're working on, people team up in pairs and spend the first work period with person A taking the role of "driver," cranking out his/her work and focusing on the tactical minutiae of the work; person B is "navigator:" observing, catching errors, making suggestions, helping, and thinking about the strategic direction of the work. They switch roles for the final work period.  (This makes more sense for some disciplines, tasks and industries than others.  It's best for software engineers experienced with this style of work, but can we experiment with it among designers, architects, writers, chefs, artists, accountants?)

        – This would probably work best if we can start off with pairs of people who are already working on the same body of work together, so they switch roles back and forth but stay focused on the same thing.  That's the way it works with pair programming.

                – Then again, pairing up strangers working on different things brings certain advantages that come with a totally fresh pair of eyes serving as "navigator."  When you're dive deeply into a project, you lose sight of a lot of important aspects of it that are visible to newcomers.


Pair Block–Breaking format [ Full script/documentation here ] – This is a hybrid of Business Speed Dating and Pecha Kucha formats (below) combined and adapted for the purpose of breaking out of mental blocks...  People from different disciplines who've each reached a creative impasse in their work gather at the event. 

    – Phase 1) [ :12 for 6 people (preferable);  :20 for 10 people ]  Each person spends 2 minutes describing their mental block to the group.

    – Phase 2) [ :30 for 6 people (preferable);  :50 for 10 people ]  People pair up for 2 sessions of 5 minutes each: a) Person B suggests ideas/solutions for person A's block, and discusses/refines them w/ Person A;  b) vice versa.

            – One person in each pair moves to the next table to create new pairs.

            – Phase 2 repeated til all potential pairs have met

    – Phase 3) [ :10 ] Participants vote anonymously (via our software or papers in a hat) on who was most helpful in breaking their block.  The participant voted most helpful gets a prize.  (And perhaps a badge or reputation points that appear on their BreakoutOS account? Or on Foursquare?)


"Speed Dating" for Business [ Full script/documentation here ] BASIC STRUCTURE/PROCESS: The space is set up with many small tables with two chairs a piece (or other structures that encourage comfortable, brief conversations between pairs of people).  Divide the participants into two groups.  Have everyone in the first group sit at the tables, one per table.  Have the second group do the same, so that each person in group 1 is paired with a person in group two. For 5 minutes the pairs interact: each person spends one minute INTRODUCING: saying very concisely (a) what she has to offer, (b) what she's looking for and (c) giving the other person a way to contact her (the easiest way is probably by handing them a business card).  The two spend the remaining 3 minutes informally DISCUSSING how they might collaborate on work, make introductions to useful connections, or otherwise help each other.  Then the person from group 2 stands up, moves on to the next table and the next group 2 person takes the seat.  A new 5-minute session begins and this process continues until everyone in group 1 meets and networks for 5 minutes with everyone in group 2.  Afterwards, refreshments are served and people can follow up with the most promising connections during a casual, unstructured 30-minute networking session. 

            – Encourage participants to draw up a concise 1-minute elevator pitch for the INTRODUCING step. General goals of this should be to figure out and convey what the most important things the person (a) has to offer and (b) is looking for right now professionally.

            – Depending on the audience and theme and goal of the session, it can make sense to form groups 1 and 2 based on each person's role and needs, so that people in group 1 can fulfill group 2's needs and vice versa. For instance, you might form a Speed Dating session putting entrepreneurs in group 1 and angel investors in group 2.  Or:  programmers with designers.  Actors with writers.  Freelance photographers with freelance journalists. Singers with musicians.  Nonprofit entrepreneurs with grantwriters or financers. Etc.

            – Try this with longer sessions and crazy nontraditional pairings, to see what sorts of ideas people from different disciplines come up with.  Architects with software developers. Artists with stockbrokers.  Comedians with tech entrepreneurs.  Etc.

The Breakout Work Tour – A group of participants agrees to spend a full day together, working on their different actual work projects AND exploring a range of new working environments.  Goal: Raise awareness of the vastly different working environments that are available to us in the city, and help participants discover which of these work styles and settings are most useful and enriching for them.  The group travels to a workspace together, works there for an hour or so, then the group travels to the next stop on the tour to work for another hour or so, and so on.  The format at each space is probably unstructured, or each work session might use one of the formats above to optimize the sort of space it takes place in.  Needless to say, this requires planning ahead with the owners of each space to allow us to use it.

        – "Old to new" work tour – The team starts the day in cubicles in the middle of a huge mid-20th-Century-style office building that houses a giant, tradtional corporation.  The next stop is the office of another huge corporation, but one that's less traditional (cubicles or open workspace at Google? Yahoo?).  Stop 3: The offices of a consulting firm like McKinsey or Adaptive Path, where you have a somewhat traditional cubicle office layout but where employees are used to "dropping in" and taking a different desk each day.  Stop 4: A more traditional coworking space that still physically resembles many office building areas.  Stop 5: A more radical and unusual coworking space. Stop 6: A cafe.  Stop 7: An outdoor park or the Cube or some other radical structure that we build.


Pecha Kucha/Lightning-talks format:  Each participant introduces herself and presents very briefly (3 minutes?), via images and talk, something of interest to her in her work right now: a particular challenge they're tackling, a cool life/work hack they've stumbled upon that makes life easier, a recent breakthrough or victory at work they're proud of, etc.   After the presentation round everyone mingles, helping each other with the problems, asking further questions about the successes, suggesting collaborations, gigs, etc.  (You might consider this a subset of the networking, problem solving and networking task themes). More about the original Pecha Kucha events and format.

    – Or: Similar format but for trading skills/services and making professional connections.  Everyone presents "We're working on X, and I'm looking for someone who can provide Y."

    – Jelly style:  Each day or session starts with each participants standing up, one by one, and spending a couple minutes briefly what they're working on, or what brought them there.  (SImilar to main Pecha Kucha format, but no slides. The focus here is not on ornate presentation; the focus is on rolling up your sleeves and working follow the presentation, and perhaps on giving quick tips to the other workers to help them get their work done, or giving them connections to colleagues who might help).


– Codeathon style:

A Codeathon's a brief nonprofit software-development marathon.  Is it possible to adapt this structure for other sorts of work?  During a Codeathon, a group of hackers get together for a nonstop 2 or 3-day session of intensive collaborative work to build open-source software that solves problems for nonprofit organizations.  (Many codeathons seek out designers too and attempt to pair coders with designers, but from what I've seen it turns out to be mostly programmers who attend these things. – Sean).   This follows along the barcamp tradition and it's not very structured, and anyone who comes up with a project that they want to see built at the Codeathon is expected to champion it to the group, recruit helpers, hash it out and manage the work on the fly.


– Barcamp style:

A Barcamp is a very loosely structured, largely ad-hoc gathering of people who want to share information, socialize, teach and learn in an open environment.  Everyone is expected to participate, nobody's supposed to just spectate.  Near the entrance to the venue there's a large grid showing time slots for each available room or space in the venue.  Anyone can claim a time slot by writing in an idea for something they'd like to present or discuss.  Participants read that board and attend the events they're most interested in. Crass self-promotion is frowned upon. Presentations promoting specific products or firms are very strongly discouraged and each presentation is supposed to offer a lot of value beyond anything that the presenter(s) sell.

More about Barcamp formats


– "Escape the Internet:" A group agrees to focus together intensely on ONLY a given task or exercise at hand for one hour.  The group is blocked off from connectivity to the outside world: no mobile phone usage, no SMSing, no Internet connectivity. This connectivity is blocked (preferably) via a Faraday cage around the venue that blocks connectivity, or a signal jammer.  Optional: Provide an "island internet:"  A local server in the room that provides tools for group notetaking, group voting/decisionmaking, a repository for code or design documents (if the group task consists of coding or design), etc. accessible to everyone in the room.  The goal is to provide participants a priceless hour of focused work without the usual distractions of multitasking and countless interruptions.


 –Group art piece: Crazy big participant-assembled art piece that grabs attention and draws people together to have fun and build something silly together as the focus, which theoretically generates shared experience and new social and business connections as a side effect.  Examples: giant lego pile at SXSW, Bloxes (http://bloxes.com/) at SXSW and many other events, room filled with toys and glue guns at Anon Salons, thousands of ping pong balls + glue at ParticipationCamp.  (With the exception of Bloxes, I'm not crazy about most of these things because they always tend to end up looking like an ugly mess, and I've never seen evidence of them bringing people together all that much.  Bloxes are fun though because they don't look as messy and they encourage people to actually shape the physical structure of the workspace and change it around.)


Touchy-feely hippieish trust-building exercises.  Example: Everyone get in a circle and falls backwards and you catch the guy in front of you, to teach people that they can trust their coworkers and that everyone loves each other. Laughter club. Group hugs. Singing a group song. (Let's avoid this stuff. I think these insult people's intelligence and when I've seen them happen at big corporate team-building seminars they always seem to leave the workers feeling more sarcastic and less trusting of management. If that's true in SF it'll be even moreso among New Yorkers, no?)


Simple games that require chatting with a lot of the other folks around to win.  Example: everyone gets a playing card and the first 2 participants to find the other guy with the matching card can step up as a pair and claim their prize.

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