How To

April 19, 2021

Have fewer but way better meetings

If anyone knows how to do meetings properly, it's GitLab's head of remote Darren Murph.

Darren Murph

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Darren Murph is the head of remote at GitLab, the software development platform company known as much for its exciting remote working style as its tools. Darren’s mission is to help all of GitLab’s  employees do exceptional work, regardless of physical location.

Part of that involves being ruthless when it comes to meetings: do they really need to happen? Could decisions be made in writing instead?


Here he gives us his top tips for making meetings more valuable:

1. Make attendance optional

"Provide a rubric for questioning every meeting such as "What is the desired outcome from this?" or “Could this actually be done asynchronously if we’re looking to get to a consensus?’. Also provide your team with canned responses to decline meetings such as ‘I’ve been in so many meetings lately, but I’m trying to be more disciplined about my schedule. Could we try to solve this without a meeting, first?’"

2. Agendas are incredibly important

"All meetings must have an agenda affixed to the calendar invite so everyone knows what's going to be discussed and can come prepared. This is helpful because you don’t waste time bringing people up to speed. An important part of using the agenda is to allow questions to be written in before the meeting.

"You can then follow this order of questions in the meeting instead of jumping around, preventing the loudest voices from dominating a conversation. You can also use this agenda to document the meeting in real time, as you already have the discussion points and questions to guide the note taking which allows multiple people to write."

3. Put as much (if not more!) effort into pre and post meeting work

"Use something like Calendly to speed up scheduling meetings — no more back-and-forth emails to check everyone's availability. Document key takeaways in a company wiki or handbook afterwards — a central repository or platform where work happens, such as GitLab, Dropbox Spaces or Notion.

"This means valuable learnings, questions and next steps are available to all those who didn't attend. You can transcribe meetings with a tool like Otter to make this easier. Also record all meetings — we use Zoom."

4. Have one person make the final decision

"This will reduce the number of meetings needed to reach a consensus. Encourage people to give their comments and opinions in meetings and asynchronously, but in the end one person decides. The selected person and their role will vary based on skillset and the requirements of a task but they're always empowered — even when we don't like a decision, we all must work to make it work."

5. Lead by example to show the benefits

"Show what’s possible when you have fewer meetings. Perhaps that’s an executive visibly attending his daughter’s music lessons midweek, or perhaps it’s a manager taking a few hours in the middle of a day to nap, garden, or catch up with a personal friend.

Very few people are energised by inefficient meetings, they simply need to be shown and empowered to change the default setting."

Anisah Osman Britton

Anisah Osman Britton is coauthor of Startup Life , a weekly newsletter on what it takes to build a startup. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn