Async Meetings
3 min read

Async Meetings

An Async meeting is a shared document to discuss and share ideas on a topic or problem instead of scheduling a meeting.
Async Meetings

What is it?

An Async meeting is merely a shared document to discuss and share ideas on a topic or problem. Similar to a discussion you would have in an actual meeting about the topic. Yet, instead of scheduling a meeting, you create a document and share it with the others.

This is not a new idea, and you are probably doing something similar. But simple and obvious ideas are still worth examining.

What is NOT an async meeting?

Conversations in chats are not async meetings. Code review comments and feedback are not async meetings. Chat threads are not async meetings. Email exchanges are also not async meetings. Documentation is not an async meeting.

How To Use Async Meetings?

For example, we need to implement a new feature in the web app. The product requirements are clear, but not how to implement them. It’s unclear whether we should reuse current components, create a new entity in the database, or which endpoints to add to the API.

We could meet with the team to discuss the implementation.

Or, we start an async meeting.

We create a new document in Notion, Confluence, Google Docs, or another. The only important part is that it supports comments and is suitable for collaboration.

In the document, we introduce the new feature requirements and state the objective: "agree on an implementation detail". Then, we write our preferred solution. That means we must think about and solve the problem before sharing and asking for feedback.

Writing down a first draft of the solution is essential to help others give more constructive and concrete feedback. Avoid discussing generics and focus on the outcome.

When everybody has shared their feedback with more than one round of comments, we set up a synchronous meeting to close the topic and reach a decision.

This final meeting is concise and straight to the point. Everybody is familiar with the topic and has already shared ideas.

Because the meetings after the document are brief, we can use the daily or even one session to close multiple documents.

To recap:

  • Write a document with a draft of the solution or decision.
  • Invite others to share their feedback.
  • Set up a sync meeting
  • Reach a decision.

Benefits

Thoughtful discussions

People have time to reflect on the topic and share their opinion when they are ready, instead of having to reply immediately.

Writing forces us to make our ideas more intelligible. Good writing needs clear thinking.

“If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” Leslie Lamport

Transparency

The decision is available not only to the ones involved but also to everyone in the company. Even people joining later can go back to why a decision was made and understand the context.

“Speaking only helps who’s in the room, writing helps everyone” Basecamp.

Decisions History

It’s too easy to criticize a decision when the results are there. Yet, most decisions are taken with no data, and nobody can predict the future.

Going back to the document of the decision helps understand the context. Even though the results are bad, the decision might have been correct.

Time friendly

  • Timezone friendly.
  • Easy to set up. There is no need to align calendars.
  • Respectful with everyone’s schedule and time.

Remember that a one-hour meeting of eight people is not a one-hour meeting; it’s an eight-hour meeting.

No Multitasking

When people are in a sync meeting, they tend to multitask and stop listening. Forcing them to read and share their thoughts on their own time ensures that the person focuses on the topic.

When Is An Async Not a Good Choice?

Urgency

Async meetings take a couple of days. If the topic is urgent, set up a sync meeting.

No Socialization

Async meetings are straight to the point and don’t help to build a solid personal relationship with the rest of the team. Yet, socialization should probably happen in a more distressed environment.

Brainstorming

For brainstorming and thinking outside the box, the messiness and spontaneity of sync meetings are an advantage, not a disadvantage.

Not For Every Team

If the members are not comfortable writing and are not avid readers, then async meetings are not a good tool. They tend to go unread and linger in limbo for too long without ever reaching a decision.

Async meetings are not for all teams.

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