Tag Archives: Presentation

Team Meetings at the Workplace

I’ve been to many team meetings (or “all hands”) that have, in the end, provided no real value to the team in attendance.  It is very possible (and likely quite common) that most meetings are actually a waste of time (as many of my closest colleagues and friends would agree).  However, this does not always have to be the case.

Meetings are important to have.  They provide an opportunity for team members to share not just the facts, but also how they feel about the current situation for a given project.  Team meetings can often provide context for the day-to-day work that each of us is involved with.  Just as importantly, it is an opportunity for leaders to maintain an awareness of how their team members are feeling, in order to better estimate how the team might respond given additional stress.

Meetings have to be run with intention in order to be successful.  Topics should be specific, and every topic discussion should end with an actionable deliverable assigned to a specific individual.  This may sound a bit restricting, but it goes a long way toward saving your team more time for actual work, along with giving them (and yourself) more time to relax.

There are many meetings that I have attended where discussions were essentially a one-way dialogue between the presenter and the rest of the team, where feedback was neither elicited nor volunteered.  When the host (usually a team lead, manager, or PM) asks the ever gripping question “..any questions or comments on this?”, and a conference call of about twenty or so people falls dead-silent.. well, I would consider that a problem.

Often the problem is that the meeting is too broad, involving too many people who don’t work with each other on a regular day-to-day basis.  Smaller meetings are the key to success.  Meetings should be specific, covering 3-5 of the most important items or active projects.  Meetings should also be quick (standing meetings are often very effective).  Questions and responses should be clear and to the point.  “What’s the status of the X project?”   “What’s changed from last week?”  “What do you need to keep this on track?”

Team meetings shouldn’t get too technical either.  That’s what e-mail, white-boards, and dedicated meetings are for.  Having technical discussions at team meetings will rarely be beneficial, and will often just turn into an echo chamber or a religious debate.  These types of discussions are good to have, but not when leadership is at the table.

When leadership is at the table (Managers, Sr. Managers, Directors),  the focus of the meeting should be for the leadership team to identify the most critical issues to address, and do all that is necessary to raise the collective spirit of the team; with feedback that is directly related to the work that they are doing.  The only way to do this is to be aware of the team’s accomplishments since the last meeting.  Every little inch matters.  Every little unit of work and motivation you can squeeze out of your team will benefit your project, and your stakeholders.   I am not suggesting micro-management, nor am I advocating unnecessarily cracking the whip.  Instead, what I would suggest is that teams work together to develop processes and routines that will continually provide positive, targeted feedback on the work that the staff has accomplished.

 

S5 Presentation Software, XMind, Freemind, and mm2s5

I’m tired and a bit wired, but I figured I’d put a few words together just to purge my messy mind. So today I’d like to talk about presentation software (a la powerpoint); mind-mapping software, and how to get from one to the other in an interesting way.

I’ve been a mind-mapping fanatic for many years, as far back as 2004 if I recall correctly. Back then (and even up to today) I’ve used and loved the free and open-source mind-mapping software called Freemind [http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page]. It’s a great little piece of java software which provides a great UI for doing brainstorming and outlining using mind-maps.

These days, I use a mix of Freemind and XMind to do my day-to-day brainstorming and planning. XMind is like Freemind (in fact, I’m sure it borrowed many ideas from that project), but has a nicer UI, and many more options in terms of layout, tagging, markers, etc. I find that I jump between the two often, until my brainstorming takes on a life of it’s own, then I will stick to one or the other for the remainder of the map creation.

I recently had to put together a presentation for the Toronto Perl Mongers group to discuss, well Perl.. and VMware. And of course I whipped out Freemind and XMind to start the brainstorming process. XMind has a nice feature that allows you to export your mind-maps to an MS Power Point or OpenOffice Impress type format, which is great and what I needed. Problem is though that this feature is not free, it comes as part of XMind’s online subscription services for their “professional” version of the product. Even though the price is fairly reasonable, and I’m sure at some point may just bite the bullet and subscribe, I wasn’t ready to do that just yet. So I was on the hunt for some way to convert my mind-map into some kind of presentation.

To their credit, one thing that XMind does do properly is allow you to export your XMind maps to Freemind’s .mm format. This is great, because Freemind itself has multiple freely accessible export formats, including exports to OpenOffice.org and PDF. However, I wasn’t satisfied, I was looking for something that would do the job more completely.

Eventually I came across a neat little HTML/Javascript based presentation tool called S5, which stood for “Simple Standards-Based Slide Show System”. This tool was exactly what I was looking for! It’s small, clean, no-fluff implementation meant that I could whip up a professional looking presentation without the need to load up any bulky software aside from Firefox. Problem remained though, that my data was still in XMind (and Freemind) formats. I was considering writing a tool that would convert Freemind XML files into S5 HTML documents, which would have been fairly easy since both formats are fairly open and clear, however that would have taken a good deal of time, and time is one that that I never seem to have enough of these days.

So I went hunting on the plains of Google to see if anyone was experiencing the same problem I was, and if they did anything about it. And what do you know! I found a project on Google Code that does exactly that! The project is called (reasonably enough) mm2s5, and does a wonderful job at converting my Freemind mind-maps into S5 Presentation format!

Anyone who’s interested in finding a nice way to brainstorm and turn their ideas into presentations should seriously consider trying these tools out, they’re fantastic, and they’re free!