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Manager & Team Practices

Best Practices for Effective Meetings

Because we’re a globally distributed team, communication between HashiCorp employees happens primarily via writing and virtual meetings. The way we interact in documents and in meetings is extremely important to the health and effectiveness of our company. Meetings, in particular, are a critical driver of our culture. When a morning Zoom call with a group of teammates might be your only face-to-face interaction of the day, it goes a long way to make that call a positive and productive experience.

Effective meetings help create an inclusive workplace and support our teams' success—the best outcomes come from surfacing and synthesizing diverse perspectives. As the filmmaker Kirby Ferguson describes in his TED Talk “Embrace the Remix,” even the most innovative ideas aren’t truly new, but rather a unique combination of other ideas. In other words, collaboration with your colleagues is your superpower. When we hold a meeting that makes space for a wide range of voices, we set ourselves up for success. Hearing diverse viewpoints helps us discover our own blindspots and evolve our thinking before coming to a conclusion. Even if you leave a conversation with your plans and ideas largely unchanged, it will nonetheless be easier to move forward in alignment, because everyone feels heard. 

Whether you’re an organizer or a participant, you should approach meetings deliberately. Below, you’ll find some recommended best practices for five types of meetings—structured brainstorms, team meetings and project kick-offs, one-on-ones, ad-hoc, and social—to help you get the most out of your time together.

Structured brainstorms

Whether you want to crowdsource possible solutions to a specific challenge or you’re deciding what your team should prioritize in the weeks and months ahead, a brainstorm session is a good way to curate multiple perspectives and achieve buy-in. We recommend a structured brainstorm where participants come to the meeting prepared with their ideas, as research shows many of us benefit from a chance to think independently beforehand. Pre-work also limits group think and can give more space for each participant to be heard. 

To make space for everyone to contribute regardless of their personality type, create a document before the meeting where people who prefer to brainstorm asynchronously can start recording their thoughts.

Preetha Appan, Director of Engineering, Consul

I like using a ‘starter doc’ to drive brainstorming because it gives people something to respond to. It keeps us from going too far in any one direction, which makes the meeting itself more efficient.

Kate Lehman, Director of Corporate Communications

Even if every participant has written down ideas beforehand, use the beginning of the structured brainstorm meeting to let each person share their suggestions with the group. It's best to set a 5 minute limit for each person, that way there's time for everyone to share and time at the end to discuss the patterns. Often you'll find that ideas overlap, and the group can align on those shared recommendations.

We can’t address everything at once. But we try to make sure we leave a brainstorm meeting with two or three action items.

Chad Armitstead, Senior Director of Globals Segment, Solutions Engineering

Structured brainstorming levels the playing field. Instead of the people with the loudest voices making all the decisions, everyone gets a chance to be thoughtful—and to be heard.

Kevin Fishner, Chief of Staff

Team meetings, scheduled check-ins, and project kick-offs

Team meetings and project meetings share similar characteristics. Done well, they anchor on clear success milestones and routinely review progress towards those milestones. For a project, those goals might be very specific and time bound. For ongoing team meetings, those goals might change every quarter. But it is important to clearly set expectations for what success looks like, and keep the group on track. Sometimes the team might learn that the milestones themselves are wrong, and that is ok. Have a conversation about what the right goals are and adjust accordingly. 

When a new project starts or a team refreshes their quarterly goals, the starting point should be a kick-off meeting to set expectations and get everyone aligned. The organizer should start by sharing the goals, explaining the “source of truth” against which success will be measured—whether it’s a metric, a product roadmap, or simply the milestones laid out in the project plan—and introducing key stakeholders and cross-functional contributors. Everyone should leave knowing what they’re responsible for.

The kick-off meeting is the first in a ritual of regular check-ins. Each time you meet (weekly, monthly, or whatever makes sense for the project), every member of the group should come prepared to provide an update on their progress—or lack thereof, if other projects have taken priority. To make sure expectations are clear, keep clear meeting notes and maintain up-to-date agendas.

Without a regular cadence, it’s easy to lose sight of a goal. Setting explicit expectations every week helps us keep moving things forward.

Kevin Fishner, Chief of Staff

I’m big on inputs and outputs. People should know what they need to bring to a meeting, and what we want to leave it with.

Chad Armitstead, Senior Director of Globals Segment, Solutions Engineering

In general, participants in regular check-in meetings should focus their updates on the information most valuable to their teammates and the areas where they need help. Other details can be handled asynchronously. While a regular structure helps things move smoothly, it’s important to think critically about how to make the time valuable and make sure everyone is getting what they need.

It’s okay to iterate on check-ins as things change. On the Marketing team, we shifted our editorial calendar meetings away from reporting readouts for content to focus on cross-team dependencies.

Kate Lehman, Director of Corporate Communications

Remember that these meetings are often the main face-to-face interactions employees have with each other. Review progress but also leave some time for teammates to ask for help, celebrate wins, and get to know each other.

The last quarter to half of our team’s weekly check-in is an open forum. You can follow up on an earlier discussion or ask technical questions you’re blocked on. It often ends up being a philosophical discussion about the direction of the product.

Chad Armitstead, Senior Director of Globals Segment, Solutions Engineering

One-on-ones

There are two types of regular one-on-one meetings at HashiCorp—between managers and reports, and between peers. The former usually strikes a balance between discussion of short-term projects and needs, and longer-term, career-focused topics. They’re generally held weekly and also provide an opportunity to simply connect with one another. (See Relationship Building for specific best practices.)

I use one-on-ones to build rapport and trust with my team members, to get their feedback on organizational and process changes, and to set context for the future.

Preetha Appan, Director of Engineering, Consul

I ask my reports if they have any blockers; I get updates on their accounts; I make sure they’re not overloaded and suffering in silence. I also try to be their ‘connective tissue’ to the rest of the organization and recommend people who have expertise that could help them. The most important thing—especially on a remote team—is just that they feel like they have a regular forum with me.

Chad Armitstead, Senior Director of Globals Segment, Solutions Engineering

Regardless of the tool you use—some take notes and track agenda items—it’s important to prepare thoughtfully for your one-on-ones, both as a manager and as a report. Many managers keep a note for each direct report and jot down topics throughout the week to cover.

Before a one-on-one—or any meeting—I try to spend a few minutes thinking about its purpose. What do I need to get out of this conversation? Otherwise, it’s easy to get off the rails and start going down rabbit holes.

Kate Lehman, Director of Corporate Communications

Much like manager/report one-on-ones, effective peer one-on-ones should strike a balance between tactical, project-focused discussions and building relationships. These are often cross-functional and don’t necessarily happen every week. And while they are optional, they are an important way to stay connected on particular projects or with parts of the organization that you don’t work with every day. Spend some time considering which of your peers you want to set these up with, and feel free to change these over time.

There’s a natural and healthy tension between people collaborating across functions—we’re asking each other for things, we’re holding each other accountable. That’s much more organic and easier to do when you’ve already cultivated a relationship with someone, rather than just going to them when you need help.

Kevin Fishner, Chief of Staff

Ad-hoc conversations

While asynchronous communication via tools like Google Docs and Slack has many benefits, especially on a global team like ours, sometimes a written process just isn’t as effective—or as fast—as a quick impromptu call. As with all meetings, it’s important to be inclusive of different working preferences and styles; while an introvert may prefer to think through a challenge independently, for example, a conversation may be more clarifying for their extroverted colleague. In general, though, whenever you don’t seem to be getting your point across in writing, or you’re not sure you’re understanding a teammate, don’t hesitate to suggest an ad-hoc meeting instead. 

When a back-and-forth over Slack doesn’t feel productive—and especially if stress or frustration is playing out in public—it’s a good idea to sort it out with a conversation.

Preetha Appan, Director of Engineering, Consul

I do ad-hoc conversations for many reasons. Sometimes, I can tell the other person is confused about the ‘why’ of a project, and we’ll hop on a Zoom to clear it up. Sometimes, it’s just to engage with them, especially if one or both of us is working from home. And sometimes, I’ve just been typing too much that day!

Kate Lehman, Director of Corporate Communications

Often, ad-hoc meetings stem from a written “artifact,” such as an RFC or PRD. When that’s the case, the artifact can be helpful both in driving the discussion and recording its outcome. If your ad-hoc meeting is not related to an artifact, consider creating one.

Social meetings

Much like one-on-ones, social gatherings—whether in-person or virtual—help us develop bonds with our teammates that strengthen and extend beyond our work. Whether it’s a HashiCafé, a “happy hour” (make it more inclusive by including non-alcoholic drinks, too), or an axe-throwing outing, taking time for these events every month or so can make your job more connected and more fun. Social meetings work well when regularly organized by teams, but also when done more informally and in smaller groups.

My team recently organized a Zoom-based scavenger hunt. We all split up into teams and scoured our houses for the objects. Seeing what people came up with was really fun.

Kate Lehman, Director of Corporate Communications

Social events allow you to not only deepen your relationships with the teammates you’re already close with, but develop surprising bonds with people you might not get to know otherwise. Creating those connections is a big part of the reason I stay at HashiCorp.

Chad Armitstead, Senior Director of Globals, Solutions Engineering

From social get-togethers to project-focused brainstorms, cross-collaborative weekly meetings to spontaneous one-on-ones, meetings at HashiCorp run the gamut. And just as each of us has a unique contribution to make, each conversation will be unique. But regardless of the purpose or the participants, every meeting at our company is an opportunity to not only connect with our colleagues, but also to build a better, more inclusive company culture.