The best way to learn is from experience. Experiences are immediate. They are connected to real work, and you can see the real-life effects of your choices on the outcomes. Meeting reflections make sure that your team uses their experiences to learn, grow, and improve in a meaningful way.
Reflecting gives your team a chance to examine what went well and keep incorporating those things into their work. It also gives them time to examine what didn’t work, figure out what lessons can be taken from those mistakes, and improve their process moving forward.
It’s easy to get pulled into the immediate demands of the next task and never take the time to reflect and learn. Being intentional about setting aside time for meeting reflections is a great tool for team building. It ensures your team is doing the best work they can, growing and excelling over the long term.
What is a meeting reflection?
A meeting reflection is a specifically planned meeting to discuss and learn from recent work experiences. Teams may discuss a specific project or the success of general communication and collaboration during a period of time. Regular work meetings talk about what needs to be (or has been) done, while meeting reflections talk afterward about how that work was done, with an eye on improving it next time.
Unlike a formal post-mortem or retrospective, a meeting reflection is less solution-focused and more free-flowing. It is an open meeting that focuses on the experiences of the team and the lessons they learned through questions and conversations. The conversation can be allowed to take a more natural course of discovery.
Why are meeting reflections helpful for teams?
Having regular meeting reflections can help your team, and your business, become more successful. Reflection makes it possible for team members to improve their work over time, becoming better teammates, better collaborators, and better performers at work.
Improve team dynamics and communication
Meeting reflections help teams get used to having open, honest conversations about their work. They build the trust and positive dynamics you need to pull off successful team collaboration. Once it becomes a habit to have those conversations, team members will be more comfortable having conversations about teamwork outside of a meeting context too.
Meeting reflections give team members a structured place to discuss big-picture issues. This helps prevent small challenges from blowing up into bigger conflicts. Team members can also identify positive things about their work dynamic they want to institute on a wider basis.
Improve client relationships
Meeting reflections where your team discusses the client relationship will help your team present a more seamless experience for clients. Team members can use these meetings to share information they’ve gathered and approaches they have learned work well with a particular client. Your team, as a whole, will serve your clients better because they are communicating and on the same page.
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How do you run a successful meeting reflection?
It might seem contradictory, but you need the larger structure of a meeting reflection to be organized and focused so that team members have the space for free-flowing open conversations within the meeting. A poorly planned meeting can produce conflict or simply waste time. Preparation and structure will keep meetings timely, positive, and productive.
1. Find a cadence that suits your work
The type of work you do will determine the appropriate timing of your meeting reflections. Some workplaces may benefit from frequent meetings, while in other circumstances, that frequency would be a distraction, and attendees would not have much new to say.
- Weekly - A fast-paced work environment where work is delivered quickly and changes frequently might benefit most from weekly meeting reflections. With more frequent meetings, team members won’t have forgotten important lessons, and they can put positive changes into effect faster. A content team might want to meet weekly since they are publishing at a quick pace.
- Monthly - Enough progress is usually made in a month in a typical workplace that most will benefit from reflecting monthly. A product team could meet monthly to make sure all the pieces of their work continue to run smoothly.
- Annual - Teams can plan an end-of-year reflection to gain a bigger-picture understanding of the year’s work. Any team could use big-picture annual meeting reflections in addition to more frequent ones that focus more narrowly.
- Project by project - It makes sense to reflect on project-based work as you complete each project. A marketing team launching regular campaigns might plan meeting reflections after each launch.
- Benchmark-based - Plan reflections for longer-term projects by important benchmarks or phases so you can improve your workflow as the project develops. A team building a long-term collaborative project like an enterprise website could use benchmark meeting reflections to stay on track.
Related: How to decide on the perfect meeting cadence
Meeting reflections should be held on a consistent basis so that teams can make a habit of them. When teams can anticipate a regular meeting, they will begin to think critically about their work during each project. They will come to the next meeting with more helpful learnings to share.
2. Set roles for team members
There are four essential roles for a meeting reflection, though these roles may be combined in a smaller group. Setting roles makes sure essential tasks get handled, and the meeting stays on track. Team members without specific roles are there to listen, engage, share thoughts, and ask questions.
The designated learner is the team member who will share a recent experience or lesson learned that they find meaningful. You may have multiple learners in a meeting or focus on one. The lessons they share could include:
- A problem they solved successfully
- A challenge their team faced
- A successful collaboration with a team member or client
- A new approach they tried that did or did not work
The rest of the team takes this lesson as a jumping-off point for conversion. They can ask the learner follow-up questions or share their own thoughts or experiences.
An effective facilitator is an important part of any guided discussion. The facilitator serves as a practical guide, providing structure and keeping the meeting moving forward in a timely manner.
Choose a timekeeper to keep track of the time allotted for each part of the meeting reflection.
A specific person should be designated to take meeting notes so that important takeaways can be remembered and followed up on.
3. Prepare questions that will prompt productive discussion
Come up with a set of questions that will prompt deep thinking and productive discussions. It helps to share these questions with the team ahead of time so team members have time to think more deeply about their answers.
The questions you select will guide the direction of your discussion, so keep your goals in mind when coming up with a list. If you want a broader, more general discussion, use some of the basic questions to jumpstart the conversation. If you want to dive deeper into a specific topic, choose questions that call out that topic in particular and prepare follow-up questions.
- What went well? Why?
- How can we incorporate more of the elements that made this project successful into future work?
- What didn’t go well? What could have gone better? Why?
- How can we improve on those things in the future?
- Did the process of this project allow you to do your best work?
- What did you learn from this experience?
- What did you observe a teammate doing that you would like to incorporate into your own work?
- What advice would you give your teammates?
- What advice do you need from your teammates?
- What decision-making process did you use? Was it effective, and why?
You can also use a what, why, and what’s next approach, where you dive into the specifics of one situation and then focus on solutions. This approach is great for shorter meetings or meetings focused on a particular project or problem to tackle.
What, why, & what’s next:
- What happened?
- Why did it happen that way?
- What do we do next now that we know this?
4. Give your meeting structure to facilitate open conversation
Prepare for your meeting by setting an agenda with appropriate time estimations. This will keep your meeting moving forward and make sure you get to all the important tasks you have in mind. Encourage team members to speak up by asking questions of specific people if the room is quiet. If you are on Zoom, you may even want to ask everyone to come off mute to lower the barrier to participation.
An agenda could include the following sections:
- Break the ice
- Open questions & conversation
- Set action items
5. Follow up on your meeting’s findings
Take thorough notes throughout the meeting and highlight next steps while the meeting is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Save your notes where they can be referenced in the future. Assign action items to team members, and set a timeline for following through. Lastly, take a moment to set your next meeting reflection on the calendar.
Use visual tools to help your team collaborate creatively
Virtual whiteboard spaces like Mural help your team understand each other better, express their thoughts, and stay focused. Start with a retrospective meeting template, and add important discoveries and talking points as the discussion moves forward. The advantage over a physical whiteboard, even in person, is that a digital whiteboard keeps records of your meetings.
Visualizing a meeting reflection helps your team members think big-picture as the discussion develops. It also keeps a thorough record of the topics you covered and the discoveries you made. You can even pull up previous reflection boards to begin future meetings where you left off and see what progress you’ve made.
What’s most important to remember is teamwork is collaboration, and collaboration requires trust, creativity, and a willingness to share your ideas, even when it’s scary. Meetings are a time for teams to get on the same page and build that trust. During meetings, they will visualize and create a team environment where they all are excited to contribute.