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Bringing Your A-game to Your Next Team Meetup

8 min read

For remote-first teams, meetups can serve as the pit stop for team building—cultivating lasting psychological safety, among other benefits. For our team, this year's gathering in Chamonix, France, was notably meaningful, as it was our first meetup in over three years!

With our company now more than three times the size than at previous meetups, our time together served as a critical milestone in our growth.

It was also a great opportunity for me to connect with everyone, as I joined Float just a few months prior as our first Director of Product. While I've spent over nine years in product roles, I was excited by the idea of creating top-quality experiences for Float users, and building on a fundamental company value to be great over good enough.

My goal for the meetup was to mindfully connect with the team through a series of presentations and workshops, both as a presenter, co-presenter, and participant.

Preparing as a speaker

I prepared and delivered two presentations in Chamonix:

  • Traveling Lighter & More Agile: Guiding Our Best Work Together. This presentation revisited and outlined in-flight process changes for how we approach building Float.
  • Our Product Strategy: Defining Our Next Big Opportunities. This was a continuation of the story started in the first presentation. I walked through the key opportunities we have as we get ready for next year. Paired with this was the formal introduction of squads—a new way of organizing work groups to provide a space for team agency, ownership, autonomy, and trust.
Our team taking in one of the day's presentations

For these presentations to have an impact, I knew I needed to hit several goals as a speaker:

  • Successfully deliver all my presentations
  • Support my team members' presentations
  • Pay attention and solicit feedback from presentations across the company
  • Be prepared to navigate any unforeseen challenges, particularly technical ones

Since this was the first in-person presentation in years for most of us (myself included), it was also important to mentally prepare shifting away from the Zoom and Loom-style presentations we've gotten used to.

What the prep work entailed ⚒️

  1. Defining through collaboration. The presentations were born out of my work at Float up to that point, so it was important to collaborate with both my team and speakers from other departments. A dedicated #2022-meetup-agenda-planning channel was created in Slack two months out, where we agreed on familiar themes for speakers and shared our working presentations. The goal was to ensure our messaging stayed consistent and that the timing of the presentations made sense, particularly for cross-department initiatives.
  2. Settling on purpose and takeaways. For example, in my first presentation, I wanted to share how to healthily and efficiently move together in iterating Float for our users, while also increasing the emphasis on listening to feedback.
  3. Doing your research. As part of my first presentation, I referenced Teressa Torres' opportunity solution tree model outlined in her book Continuous Discovery Habits. The model mindfully guides the prioritization of new features and improvements toward maximum value-add for our users. As we build the future of Float, we can define what we do in the context of opportunities, which help steer how we discover, deliver, and validate what we create. It's an exciting perspective!
  4. Using new tools. I also introduced Linear in this presentation. Following investment in scaling our product and engineering teams this year, Linear includes tools such as automated cycle tracking to help support efficient development and faster customer updates. We're fans of their approach to building products and share a similar perspective, so it made sense for us to migrate to it for issue tracking.
  5. Getting buy-in. Shared alignment is key to any successful presentation. It's important to build a perspective of what is (and isn't) valuable for those involved, as well as historical context around specific opportunities. For instance, during a recent Remote Roadshow, I seeded the concepts of our process improvements and shared a feedback survey to account for input across the organization. I focused on sharing the why behind any changes or decisions during my presentations. I also sought to share foundations in my first presentation that would set the stage for my second presentation and the accompanying workshop. Using a workshop provided a way to get folks involved and contribute directly to the buy-in process.

Building a presentation a week at a time

I started formally building the presentations around a month before the meetup. Here’s how I structured my time:

➡️ Four weeks out—Mind maps. I invested in creating mind maps to outline the presentations. Starting with content first helps orient the presentation topic, with the delivery and formatting coming later. Mind maps are an easy visual tool for others to react to, and I sought feedback from team members.

➡️ Three weeks out—Drafting. I started drafting my presentations in Pitch. Building the presentation drafts themselves didn't take long, as I was able to use the mind maps I had already developed.

➡️ Two weeks out—Practice and refine. The last 20% of the effort is always the most time consuming. The two weeks leading up to the presentation were primarily dedicated to refinement, polish, and iteration. Notably, most of the refinement was in the spirit of collaboration to ensure that all presenters were aligned on full-company messaging. As the presentations came to a good place, I needed to ensure I was well prepared to present. Dedicating time to practice, timing, and refinement (based on that practice) was the first step. As the meetup neared, I reviewed the presentation and presenter notes more regularly.

➡️ One week out—Getting into the mindset. The presentations were an opportunity to practice empathy with the audience, so prioritizing rest before speaking was vital. Considering that this was an international trip for me that required managing jet lag, I gave myself grace and space to work through it.

➡️ Day of—All set, present (and let go!). While presenting, the most enjoyable part was allowing myself to go off script. Despite all of the previous practice, it's perfectly okay to let things go in a different direction. Walk away from the speaker's notes and trust yourself—add pauses, use voice fluctuations, tell jokes, and do whatever comes naturally. Most of all, have fun!

Planning the workshop and breakout session

The most effective product strategies consider inputs from everyone across an organization and skill sets. You can lose out on valuable context that could otherwise make or break your product's direction, so I knew that I wanted to include a workshop component.

A rapid-fire brainstorming session 🔥

With a packed day of presentations, I could only budget 15 minutes for the workshop. While it's easy to feel that more time is needed with a team of 50—planned intentionally—15 minutes can yield tremendous insight and value. I sought to balance making the workshop engaging while keeping it simple and easy to comprehend.

Here are a few considerations that helped me plan:

  1. Due to time restrictions, I broke the team into two groups. Rather than pre-define who should be part of each topic, I divided the room into two sides. The messiness of this approach also helped capture broader perspectives.
  2. I got the support of two talented senior product managers to facilitate each breakout. Each of them led one of the two groups and collected ideas from teammates on a board with post-its. Each brought their own distinct and valuable style to facilitate their breakout group. (This had the added benefit of laying the groundwork for new collaborations they are now leading across squads.)
  3. The final slide in my presentation prior to the workshop was designed for efficiency. It included a giant QR code for team members to scan and quickly pull up a Notion page summarizing the presentation, as well as pictures of the product managers facilitating the breakout groups (an important consideration since this was the first time most of the company was seeing each other in person!).

In just 15 minutes, the workshop generated a ton of valuable ideas. We took pictures of the post-its and digitized them into a Miro board so the brainstorming and prioritization could continue well after the meetup.

And now for a break (out session)

Following the presentations, our company turned to smaller department breakout sessions. This was an opportunity to dive deep into department-specific topics and presentations.

When planning this time, I considered how the team might be feeling after a full day of presentations. I was also curious about what was on the product team's collective mind—did any of the presentations prompt new ideas? Were there any additional topics to consider?

To facilitate discussion, I turned to a favorite meeting tool of mine: lean coffee. It's a simple discussion format that creates a level playing field to prioritize and discuss topics anyone can suggest. We set up several large pieces of butcher paper labeled Topics, Discussing, and Discussed. Team members had a chance to reflect and add sticky notes for consideration to the Topics page, and then we voted on the order of discussion for the rest of our time.

The result was a solid hour and a half of team bonding and deep discussion! The intentionally organic format helped cultivate healthy and valuable conversations that would have been challenging to create space for otherwise.

A lean coffee template by Miro

From presenter to participant

Leading and participating are like two sides of the same coin: they inform and support one another, and balance is vital.

When you have the opportunity to lead a presentation or discussion, energizing and aligning around opportunities and approaches can result in more effective participation. Shifting into a participation mindset requires a lot of listening and observing. How are team members reacting to your presentation? To others' presentations? In addition to what they say, what do the body language and tone of others convey?  

Asking these questions helps connect the dots across presentations and topics and leads to broader discussions with team members. It also helps uncover what resonates (and what doesn't) while considering different approaches and styles.

Presentations are only a starting point

While the presentations required the bulk of my focus, my most important role was connecting with everyone on our team. The presentations provided space for deeper consideration and cross-team collaboration that helped us build rapport and trust that will last for some time.

This kind of relationship-building is the ultimate goal of a team meetup.

Our people ops team deliberately organized our time in Chamonix to give us a day of work (presentations and breakout sessions) and a day of play (a wonderful trip to the mountain and other activities). This way, we could focus on work mode during day one and switch mindsets on day two to truly get to know each other.

Making our way up Mont Blanc on the world's highest vertical ascent cable car

The relationships we cultivated during our meetup will fuel our collective minds and energize our team, and we'll use the ideas, feedback, and discussions to build the future of Float!

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