breakout: being a better Chair

13 Nov 2013

See also: IRC log


WendySeltzer, NigelMegitt, DavidBaron, WilhemJoyAnderson, MounirLamouri, CoralieMercier, DanAppelquist, MarkSadecki, CharlesMcCathieNevile, YosukeFunahashi
nigel, koalie


<nigel> scribeNick: nigel

getting people to contribute

chaals: can be easy to get people to talk, less so to contribute materially

chaals goes through Chairs breakfast notes going through issues identified

scribe: Knowing how tools work.
... Important for chairs, hard to find out.


<koalie> scribenick: koalie

chaals: tips so far:
... have an agenda
... delegate tasks

<scribe> scribenick: nigel

<dka> Hey.

Handling human clashes

<wseltzer> dka: Trolls. I dealt with one by just ignoring him

<wseltzer> ... but others felt they needed to pay attention.

dka: there may have been actual technical issues
... but the nonsense made it difficult to access them

chaals: it would be wrong to pass up on the sound technical points due to the trolling

dbaron: W3C being too lenient here.

chaals: I've used a 'banning' technique, for a fixed period. When the person returned they were more pleasant to deal with
... It's important to set the tone for acceptable behaviour, as a chair.

dbaron: the person being rude drives others away too.

mounir: trolls via emails are easier to handle than face to face clashes.

nigel: the way I've tackled that is to use the pause when everyone wants to avoid the 'fight' to step in and pull out the technical issue
... if it comes down to an objection/proposal then they have nowhere to go, unless there's a genuine issue.

chaals: Chairs should always be polite, in all circumstances.
... They set the behavioural expectations - this won't work if they can't do it themselves.
... A good technique in general is to keep agenda items short. If people waste a long time over a proxy technical argument, then the time limit can stop it.

wilhelm: In 'high drama' scenarios, strict speaking queue and time rules help. Can rearrange speaker queues to keep things fair, actively.
... Strong chairing can be useful for dealing with that, though I've not seen that in W3C.

chaals: Summarises: focus on issues and process (fair conduct of meetings etc)

wilhelm: At W3C TPAC 2013 there was a strong disagreement - I moved the focus on concrete actions, which helped make the decision.

nigel: did the party whose view did not win out feel outmaneouvred?

wilhelm: both parties were equally unhappy, and could understand the reason for the decision.

chaals: SOmetimes losing people can be an improvement but generally it's not a good thing. Comes from frustration usually.
... Timeboxing discussions and stating 'we will return to this later'. If you allow an objection to be fought out immediately someone will 'die'.
... Waiting for a bit, allowing calming time, allows for a happier resolution often (not always!)
... Getting people 'shipping' product is a 'feature'.
... some people work against the draft, others work according to a timed contract etc.
... W3C insists on publishing documents, otherwise it has no point.

wseltzer: what if some working group participants have the goal of preventing completion?

chaals: it's a known problem in standards orgs. The question is what can you do about it?
... Can figure out how to balance the 'don't abuse the process' against 'looking at the possibility of forcing people to stop delaying'
... need to figure out what the reason is. One option is to change direction, puts the onus on the objector to put up or shut up.
... If they don't have an alternative they have nowhere to go.

wilhelm: But it might be that the group is doing stuff that shouldn't be done.

chaals: It's unusual for chairs to take on work that they disagree with - can resign!

dka: Can also reformulate what the output is, e.g. change the charter, break up the WG, move the activity to other WGs etc

chaals: zakim, drop item 1
... If W3C could do something, what would we ask them for?

wilhelm: resource limits create difficulties. Not sure what could be done to help.
... I and editor have day jobs that need to be done.

chaals: Part of that is getting people to contribute. E.g. asking for scribes - some people are good at it but don't want to, others are happy to do it but not good at it!
... it's tricky if you don't have time to maintain quality in a time-pressured environment.
... can focus on key features first, others later.
... who has co-chairs? They're useful. (lots of people raise hands)

mounir: if the two co-chairs want to go in different directions that can be difficult.

dka: it's also about communication style, and relationships.
... I've been in a situation where the chairs aren't friends
... splitting work up and creating task force leaders can be helpful for diminishing conflict.
... having an agreed work split really helps, e.g. alternating calls.

nigel: what about issue/functionality-based work splits?

dka: we did that too in another group. It went okay for a while.
... Priorities need to stay aligned too. E.g. perfectionism vs delivery.

chaals: Would ask W3C to give us staff contacts who are reasonable. Chairs should be happy to complain about staff contract to their manager.

koalie: How would you know if a staff contact isn't performing?

chaals: if it doesn't work then it doesn't work. If it turns out the chair's expectations are too high the manager will bounce it.
... but if the staff contact doesn't do anything, argues in meetings etc. then that isn't right.

nigel: can discuss strengths and weaknesses of staff contacts with them.

dka: in some groups the staff contacts effectively chair. In others they play a more muted role.
... I was surprised at the level of difference in involvement. There's no right or wrong though. It's really helpful if they can play a strategic planning role in the group.

<koalie> Guidebook: staff contact role

chaals: It's important to have a functioning working relationship with the staff contact.
... I was taken off as a staff contact when I didn't get on well with the chair - we were both surprised. But it does happen.
... Negotiating the relationship and expectations is about what you need. If your staff contact is going to disappear for 2 months that's not very good.

tools and documentation for tools

chaals: "Dinner"
... I think W3C should buy us dinner. (everyone seems to be in favour)

wilhelm: Knowing each other is really helpful.

<koalie> [Jeff Jaffe enters]

chaals: During a 'time out' if you can get the antagonists to sit down together that often helps them get to a resolution.

nigel: You can action them to return with a joint proposal.


mounir: What about chairing and contributing at the same time?

chaals: "Hats"

dka: Have to be explicit about which role you're taking at any moment.

chaals: As a co-chair it's tempting to summarise and lead, and take up too much time giving an opinion rather than allowing contributors to engage.
... So can hand over to the co-chair to allow you to contribute.
... Don't give yourself special treatment.
... It's an important issue.

dka: If you have a straw poll it's fair not to vote on an issue as a symbolic gesture of neutrality if you have a strong view.

chaals: I don't find that productive. The chair's contribution is also valuable.
... The other thing that's frustrating is keeping staff contacts out of the discussion, as they're very competent.

dka: A gavel is very useful.

chaals: Summarising.
... Things that are important: agenda, time management, good manners (setting an example), focus on technical issues, chair treating themselves as a contributor equal to other contributors.
... Getting a constructive relationship with staff contacts and co-chairs, and continually revise as needed.
... Appropriate use of dinner/time in the bar/non-meeting focused conversations.
... Dealing with stallers and delivering. Consider if staller has a good point. Use versioning as a way of getting stuff published. We have a goal to publish.

nigel: Can modularise too, as a tool to get things into a publishable state in the required timeframe.

chaals: Documentation about tools would be good, and how people use them.
... This hasn't covered everything - we'll need to do this again next year.

dka: At the chair's breakfast we talked about more forums between chairs. Tools to do that could be used.

chaals: I wouldn't do that - the problem isn't the tools. Conversations do help though.
... There is a chairs mailing list that isn't used.

dka: It's not appropriate - too big.

wseltzer: what about visits from other chairs or team contacts?

chaals: I do watch chairs in other groups. And others come to my meetings and watch. This is rational behaviour!

Summary of Action Items

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$Date: 2013-11-13 07:06:57 $

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This is scribe.perl Revision: 1.138  of Date: 2013-04-25 13:59:11  
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Succeeded: s/Charles/chaals/
Succeeded: i|dka: Trolls|Topic: Handling human clashes
Found ScribeNick: nigel
Found ScribeNick: koalie
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Inferring Scribes: nigel, koalie
Scribes: nigel, koalie
ScribeNicks: nigel, koalie
Present: WendySeltzer NigelMegitt DavidBaron WilhemJoyAnderson MounirLamouri CoralieMercier DanAppelquist MarkSadecki CharlesMcCathieNevile YosukeFunahashi
Got date from IRC log name: 13 Nov 2013
Guessing minutes URL: http://www.w3.org/2013/11/13-chairs-minutes.html
People with action items: 

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