The Unstuck Meeting: A safe failure space

GIF of a teammate turning the water bottle of another teammate so they can drink out of the right endvia GIPHY

I tweeted about my team's Unstuck Meetings earlier this year:

And I received a lot of great feedback, as well as questions about exactly how these meetings work. A friend asked me to document the process and its origins, so I decided to throw it up on my blog in case it could be of use to anyone. So here you go:

The Unstuck Meeting

On my team, calling on teammates to help when you’re stuck is expected. Unstuck meetings are a quick, focused and fun opportunity for the rest of the team to support a colleague in their work, which they might not otherwise be involved in.

Here’s how it works: if you spend more than 30 minutes on something, if you’ve gone way too far down the rabbit holes in your research and can’t pull yourself back out, or if you are having trouble seeing your next step on whatever you’re working on, you book a 30 minute meeting with “Unstuck” in the title, and invite everyone on the team.

Everyone is optional and those with time are expected to attend. In our case, that means cross-pollinating between our program team and our call center, our local folks and our individual remote workers. This is necessary on our team because we are small and each person works on a unique siloed subject area, so there isn't a lot of crossover in our work on a daily basis. This might also be what makes them work so well, since the perspectives brought into the room are so varied.

No prep is required, everyone just brings their brain to offer 30 minutes of unfettered help. The person calling the Unstuck meeting presents what they are working on, what they are stuck on and everyone can ask questions and offer a fresh perspective.

There is no judgment in this meeting. The participants are not there to criticize the approach or pass judgement on the person who is stuck. This is an opportunity to ask questions, learn, contribute and discuss. Generally, they end up demo-ing something: their work, their research, a draft deliverable which helps focus the group on "where the stuck is happening".

Sometimes they will get unstuck by solving the problem, sometimes getting unstuck will mean figuring out where they need more research and sometimes it’s just an opportunity to provide encouraging feedback that they are second-guessing themselves but they are totally on the right track. And it’s especially fun if everyone cheers “Unstuck!” at the end of the meeting. (Seriously, try it out)

Oh and here's a pro tip: if you can't provide an update on your project, you're probably stuck. Time to book a meeting :)

So there you go. If you would like this in a doc, I got you. And if you run an Unstuck Meeting, let me know on the Twitters.