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I will finish my PhD soon. Until now I worked mostly on my own but tried to talk with my colleagues on a regular basis about methods, approaches, troubles and success. Good settings are coffee breaks or after sport. It can help a lot because I am forced to order my thoughts, try to explain them in a meaningful manner and most of the time I get helpful answers, comments or tips. Additionally, I learn a lot about the topic of my colleagues.

In my area (Biotechnology) we distinguish between upstream (producing stuff using living organisms) and downstream processing (purifying stuff). Usually two different working groups (or more) are covering those areas. It is really important to talk with each other because the downstream part can heavily depend on the upstream conditions.

One aim of the next project will be to bring those areas closer together and to strengthen our knowledge about the implications of the upstream process on the downstream part.

The team will consist of two professors, two post docs, two PhD students one or two technicians and several diploma students. Recently I talked with one of my colleagues about possible setups for the meetings. We came up with following scenario:

  • One team meeting every month.
  • Everyone prepares a short presentation (10 minutes max).
  • Following questions should be answered during the presentation:
    • What is my current (mid term) goal ?
    • How do I approach it ?
    • What was the (short term) goal of the experiments performed ?
    • Did the experiments worked out like expected ?
    • What are the results ?
    • Planned work for the following month ?

I expect the meeting to last for one to two hours. At least one of the profs will attend the meeting. The two post docs organize the meetings (schedule, remainder etc.). The meeting will take place between 12:00 and 13:30. All team members prepare some bread, meat, cheese, fruits,vegetables, drinks and coffee together. That is a bit more work than just going to the canteen but I think this setting may help to establish a relaxed atmosphere.

What experiences do you have with team meetings ? How do you organize them ? Who moderates them ? What worked out well and what did not ?

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    I think you should have smaller and faster meetings also: think about using Agile and scrum techniques. One possible missing question--are there any impediments?
    – mkennedy
    Feb 23, 2015 at 18:42

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This is a fine strategy. See how it goes, and discuss afterwards whether it was helpful or not. You should not allow your meeting to run any longer than ninety minutes though on any account. Most people will not be able to concentrate for that long. Also consider inserting a break if it is going to exceed 60 minutes.

Some other thoughts: Instead of having every contribute every month, consider having only one or two presentations each week. You will probably find that some people assume that 45 slides can be presented in eight minutes and you have to cut them short or cancel the later presenters.

Keep the first session very positive and upbeat, don't be afraid to step in as the moderator if anything is going wrong. If the students make a hash of things, so be it. The first meeting will set the tone for the rest, so if someone spends thirty minutes dissecting the student's presentation, no one will want to come to your next meeting.

In that respect consider giving a short presentation on your own work/goals yourself, so that everyone has a good example presentation to emulate.

I would say it is not really fair to insist that everyone prepares some food for the group to consume. Your team are scientists, not caterers. ;) My advisor used to contract external caterers for our team meetings but I think he was a bit over the top there.

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  • The point with the food would be, that we prepare it together (including the professors). I think, it would help to establish a relaxed atmosphere. Some are cutting the vegetables, some others are preparing the bread, or coffee etc. There is time to talk about the wheater, the best technique how to cut stuff etc. etc.
    – Moritz
    Mar 9, 2015 at 16:02

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