Cardsmith Tool for Meetings


I’m a fan of a weekly meeting when working with a small team on a creative project that goes for many weeks or months. In a well-functioning team, a well-executed collaborative meeting of no more than one hour sets a kind of cadence that energizes and aligns the team for the upcoming week.

On the other hand, a poorly executed meeting with one person droning on or a chaotic stream of consciousness from various participants without relevant objectives can be soul crushing.

Our Cardsmith team meetings were not always enjoyable and productive. I can remember not too long ago feeling like ‘My Agenda’ was not being followed. Or that ‘My Needs’ were not being met and that other people on the team were taking us off track by going into the weeds on something that was not a priority. I can actually feel my stomach churn as I remember those times. I’m pretty sure I was no picnic to the team either as my bossy project manager self came out a little too often.

But now, I look forward to our weekly Cardsmith team meetings. Everyone is engaged, the meetings are efficient and productive. We share our successes, we hold each other accountable, and we discuss exciting new developments in our project (building Cardsmith: the product and the business).

This tool, that I’m about to share does not deserve the entire credit for our team’s improvement…we have been forming, storming, and norming for some time now, and our respect for each other has grown as we’ve worked closely together for several months.

I did, however, observe a very distinct improvement in our effectives as a team when we implemented this one simple tool two months ago. Our meetings became noticeably more productive, shorter, and more collaborative. Everyone has a chance to get their needs met, and yet our meetings do not take more time, they take less time!

Ok, ok, what is this magical tool you ask?

A shared, visual agenda.

We use a shared space, a Cardsmith board, where people can post agenda topics during the week. Cardsmith’s visual project management software allows for teams to collaborate around projects, or other topics. The board for of our weekly team meeting agenda is seemingly so simple, and yet it has been so very powerful!

How it works

Each of the five of us has a designated Cardsmith color that we love, and we code our Agenda items in our color. (I’m orange, by the way). Because we all have access to the shared Weekly Meeting Agenda board from our personal Cardsmith accounts, it is super easy to pop an item onto the Agenda Board whenever we happen to think of something we want to discuss with the whole team.

Cardsmith board of team meeting

Our strategy of using a shared, visual agenda has increased engagement of everyone on the team. Anyone can post an Agenda item at anytime during the week. Meetings tend to sneak up on the people doing the actual work, as compared to Project Managers who have time to plan and prepare for meetings. Unless people are given an easy way to collaborate on an Agenda, at whatever time things occur to them, the agenda will likely just fall to the project manager which results in a tone that the Project Manager is running the show, which is not ideal for full engagement of all team members.

An advisor of mine told me recently that forecasting your agenda in advance builds trust. I do believe that is part of the magic. Even if we all don’t review the Agenda Board in advance, the idea that someone put a topic on the Agenda in advance means that no one is blindsided.

And putting something on the board in advance of the meeting generally results in higher quality discussion topics that actually need to be discussed at this time. Not having an agenda encourages stream of consciousness, which can go on for quite some time in any team of creative, intelligent people!

The Cardsmith team Agenda Board lets us forecast our agenda in advance. It encourages everyone to participate, and to consider how to get the most value from our one hour meeting each week. It also helps us run the meeting.

We see how many Agenda items there are and we want to keep the meeting moving. We can re-order the Cards at the start of the meeting to make sure we cover the most important topics first. We also log notes and action items within the cards so past weeks can serve as a meeting minutes if we should need them. We simply ‘archive’ the past weeks by hiding the row on our Cardsmith Grid Board.

This post was updated in April 2020.