Maria Matarelli Blogs

Monday, June 20, 2011


The need to call aardvark: A tool for meeting effectiveness

I was working with a team on a website redesign and our Product Owner was working with the design team to ensure they had the proper requirements. He began to pull in other stakeholders for input and was working closely with our web editor. After a few sprints, they pulled me in as a stakeholder to see the progress and give input to the aspects of the site that related to my work.

They invited me to participate in the online collaboration tool and I read as much as I could to get up to speed but many conversations had taken place on and offline prior to my engagement. Before the meeting with the design team began, we were discussing how to best use our time with the team effectively. I was aware that I may have thoughts or input on a topic that had already been discussed and didn't want to de-rail the conversation or waste time talking about something they had already resolved.
We agreed that we needed a code word of some kind to use in the event that we were getting off track. A few suggestions were thrown out, then out of my subconscious came "Aardvark". It had all the qualities of a good catalyst and seemed so appropriate with the perfect element of random arbitration. It was harmless, yet cunning and the perfect neutralizer.
We agreed upon Aardvark and we were able to utilize it soon enough. When a topic was a side track, aardvark was exclaimed and we were able to jump right back on target. We delegated a facilitator for the portion of the meeting that we were leading, but the second portion yielded many open ends and thus resulted in multiple rabbit trails. Aardvark was utilized regularly and it worked brilliantly every time. No offense was taken at the exclamation, rather side tracks were averted.
The design team chuckled a bit at the first use of the word, but did not question its use at any time. It was not disruptive and was an effective tool for prodding the conversation along while avoiding any hurt feelings or misinterpreted interruptions. Because we had set expectations for the usage and meaning of the utilization of our new catalyst to efficiency, we were able to reap the benefits to proceed as a higher performing team.
There was an instance or two where we did veer from the agenda and that was because a high level discussion led to another then to another outside of the focus of the work for the near upcoming sprints. It could have been that as the long afternoon transpired, some of the participants began to sink into a moderate state of complacency, drifting in and out of attentiveness. An "Aardvark" moment must be identified in order to be utilized effectively. An Aardvark will not be called out on its own.
We do recommend the use of Aardvark in conjunction with a facilitator for best results, although it can be used by a team that does not have a set facilitator as a group self facilitation method. The beauty of calling Aardvark is that it was derived by our team for our team and was the perfect arbitrary word to serve the purpose of keeping ourselves on track. We recommend that you try calling Aardvark as a way to keep your next meeting on track. 

you can buy your own aardvark here...

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