Teaching and Learning with Atomic Roundtables

Recently, Atomic Object Grand Rapids created a new lunchtime practice that we call Roundtables. The concept is (intentionally) simple. Roundtables happen on the first and third Thursday of each month in our café space. We keep a sign-up sheet on the side of our refrigerator. Anybody is welcome to sign up to host on a topic of their choosing. 

Hosts may punch a few hours for preparing and giving the Roundtable, but we intentionally set the expectation that it doesn’t have to be highly polished—we’re more interested in facilitating conversations and sharing information than being wowed with your presentation skills.

When it’s Roundtable time, come if you’re interested. Bring your own lunch, participate in the conversation, and leave early if it’s not your thing. 

Roundtable Best Practices

One of our value mantras is Teach and Learn. Periodic, ad hoc brown bag presentations have always been a part of our company’s culture (and will continue to be). However, since instituting regular Roundtables as a practice, we’ve experienced a few things worth noting:

  • Setting a regular schedule allows people to plan ahead and avoid Thursday lunchtime for scheduling customer meetings or Pair Lunches. 
  • Posting a physical sign-up sheet in our space keeps the event front-of-mind, and the regular schedule also turns “that would be nice” items into action items. For example, instead of two colleagues saying, “We should do a brown bag on this sometime,” the conversation becomes, “Hey we should go sign up for a Roundtable on this!” and it happens immediately.
  • Emphasizing the lightweight nature of the event means we get to hear from inexperienced and experienced-but-busy hosts alike, and we get to hear a fun variety of work-related, tangentially-work-related, and not-really-work-related presentations.

Throughout Q3 and Q4 of this year, we heard from hosts on a variety of topics:

  • Personal Finance, hosted by Patrick Bacon
  • Technical Decisionmaking, hosted by Drew Colthorp
  • Atomic & Open Source, hosted by Shawn Anderson
  • Augmented Reality, hosted by Rachael Miller
  • Type Systems, hosted by Will Pleasant-Ryan
  • Winter Bike Commuting, hosted by Shawn Crowley & Micah Alles
  • Project Artifact Lightning Talk Show & Tell, hosted by me

My Roundtable: Lightning Talks

For my Roundtable, I invited Atoms from throughout the company to give quick lightning talks showcasing an interesting artifact from a current or past project. I chose this topic because my colleagues are smart people who do amazing work, and we’re a very busy company, so we don’t always have time to stop and “show off” the cool things we create. This topic was a huge hit, and participants shared a wide variety of artifacts including:

  • Videos of a usability test prototype that included some fun and complex “Wizard of Oz”-style trickery
  • An overview of ways we’ve refined our budgeting process for new projects
  • A diagram of a complex product ecosystem involving multiple physical parts
  • An overview of how one team identifies, tracks, and mitigates project risks
  • Usability test results analysis summaries
  • A diagram that illustrated the scope and risk of various parts of a complex project, helping the customer to identify features they may or may not want to pursue
  • A project report employing a new way of tracking and illustrating milestones and progress

Participants enjoyed the chance to share what they’d been doing and see the work of other teams. I anticipate we’ll make Lightning Talk Show & Tell a semi-regular event to continue the good feels. 

Evolving our Roundtable Meetings

We’re taking time off from Roundtables for the holidays, but we intend to continue the practice in 2017. 

I would love to hear from you if you try out Roundtables at your own organization! What similar practices have been successful for you?