Yesterday I visited a guild meeting at one of our customers. It is a large organisation that is rigorously deploying Scrum as their main strategy for product development. This is quite a revolutionary change for this company. Especially for Product Owners and Scrum masters, there is a need to share experiences and help one another out. After all, how do these (rookie) Product Owners and Scrum Masters become better in what they do?

Following the ideas of Henrik Kniberg at Spotify, we formed guilds. As such we run bi-weekly Product Owner and bi-weekly Scrum Master guild meetings. These meetings usually last 4 hours, and are held at the end of the day and early evening. Say 16:00-20:00 or something similar. Meals are provided so there is also time for informal contact and unplanned knowledge sharing.

Yesterday I visited a Product Owner guild meeting. They booked me for the second part of the meeting, so I could observe the first half of the meeting. This guild meeting was lifeless. It was ultimately boring, to be honest. I almost fell asleep during the first part. It was end of the day, remember!? Only presentation sheets, lots of hassle with the audio connection with a remote attendee, waiting time because the presenters did not succeed in getting their presentation up and running. In summary: I hated it. I could not imagine that I was the only one. I could see that my neighbour was reading email and checking his Facebook but the other attendees did not show much ‘presence’ either. And remember: this is private time too! These people decided to invest a part of their leisure time to be in the dullest meeting ever. So motivation is not a problem in this setting, energizing the meetings clearly is. When it was my turn, I could not resist my urge to discuss the guild itself. I felt the need to act. So I did. Why are you here? Why do you accept this to be so boring? Why are there only presentations? The first part of my slot I filled with the question: “What does it take to have a great guild meeting?”. All participants took part in that exercise. It was more like a workshop. At the end I summarized the findings and added my own experiences.

Interested what came out? Here they are, the nine characteristics that make guild meetings great:

1. Focus on becoming better in your role– The main purpose of participating in a guild is to exchange experiences, get ideas, share knowledge, create skills, understand difficulties, etc. This is training; training in your role. So at the end of every guild meeting, you should leave the meeting as a better Product Owner or Scrum master. You should have gained knowledge, skills and experiences in your role
2. Create energy and have fun – Guild meetings are trainings among friends. You share a role, passion and challenges. They need to be energetic and fun to get the most out of this. You should leave the guild meeting with more energy than you came. So, your role is to give others energy too! Make it fun meetings; exercise, play, laugh
3. Learn – Learning is the summary of the above two points. Guild meetings should be there to learn. Giving each other feedback is, as such, essential. Through feedback you learn. Make sure you work with constructive feedback (i.e. use the perfection game to give feedback). Tell each other what you do good, before telling how to improve. Remember: everyone should leave with more energy than they entered, so don’t focus too much on the negative side only.
4. Safe environment – Guild meetings must be safe. This is the place to show all weaknesses and work together to become better. Making mistakes is fine. Or better: making mistakes during guild meetings is mandatory. This is the place to learn, so this is the place to makes mistakes and where failures are allowed. Make explicit agreements about the safety and confidentiality in guild meetings: “What happens on the guild, stays on the guild!”
5. Fill your toolbox/suitcase – Guild meetings are all about building skills. As communication and interaction is crucial, guild meetings should give you tools for your role. As such, guild meetings should teach and discover workshop formats, games, simulations, etc. to be used in your daily practice. Powerpoint presentations don’t add a new format. Try to avoid presentations at all cost. There is always a better format to transfer information than a presentation, so experiment with these formats. Learn what works and what doesn’t.
6. Challenge each other – Challenging each other is crucial to learning. Be sharp on how to get better. For this you do need a safe environment and tools that provide constructive challenging. Work for example with the Lencioni model for great teams. This can help to reflect how the guild functions as a really effective team
7. Timebox everything – Timeboxing is crucial. With timeboxing you either finish exact on time or too early. When you violate timeboxing, you steel time from other important topics. Guild meetings can help you learn how to do rigorous timeboxing. Furthermore, timeboxing ensures that all important topics are addressed. As such, it will help you learn faster and add more tools to your toolbox sooner
8. No operational issues – Guild meetings are held to improve. They are there to ‘sharpen your saw’. Every minute you use for ‘sawing’ decreases the amount of time for sharpening. And remember: we organize the guild meetings to ensure focus on sharpening. So you should be very strict to the usage of this time: no operational issues on the guild!
9. Actionable – Knowledge and experience exchange are interesting, but when they don’t lead to different behaviour, they are not effective. In other words: great guild meetings lead to action. This can be action in personal behaviours or in group behaviours. So, ensure the guild meetings are actionable. What will we do different after this meeting? How will we ensure this will actually be done? It makes sense to reserve at least half an hour in every guild meeting to transfer ideas into actions.

When composing the list, we noticed that these characteristics match perfectly to Scrum Retrospectives. Makes sense doesn’t it? After all, both retrospectives and guild meetings are all about: learning. They are all about getting better in what we do. The higher the improvement, the better the meeting. So, this list appears not only to be useful for great guild meetings. It appears to be applicable to get great retrospectives too.

What do you think? Do these characteristics describe your guild meetings and retrospectives?

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