It may feel like meetings don’t cost money but when you start to think about the number of salaries that you have in the room, the overheads of the office you’re in or the tools you’re using to bring your remote team together, meetings are one of the most expensive ways to solve problems. It’s no surprise then that companies are starting to look at ways of cutting down on the bloat.
But meetings do have their uses — and some fans. “Meetings are one of the very few ways that we have left where humans give each other their full attention and can come together to create magic,” said Graham Allcott, founder of productivity consultancy Think Productive and author of How to Fix Meetings, in our Startup Life newsletter. They just need good leadership and a fair amount of discipline to ensure they're effective, he says.
Follow the 40-20-40 rule
40% of your attention should be on meeting preparation, 20% on the meeting itself and 40% executing the takeaways from the meeting. 80% of the energy required to make meetings successful is needed before and after the meeting itself — a culture of back-to-back meetings just won’t work.
Use the eyeball test
It will help you figure out whether something should be an email or a meeting. If you need to look people in the eyes and deliver sensitive information that can't (or shouldn’t) be shared in an email, then set a meeting. If you're delivering bad news — as a leader it’s important to be accountable — give people the space and time to ask questions.
Create room for magic
Another way to figure out if you need a meeting is if you need the hive mind. You may say, “Hey, we've got this big problem we need to work on, can we throw some ideas around?” It’s helpful if everyone's in the same room for this as it creates energy and excitement — you can build on each other’s thoughts and bounce back and forth. That doesn’t normally happen with email or Slack. You need to schedule in these moments; they won’t happen spontaneously — maybe during team offsite, a half day meeting or a lunch meeting.
Try no meeting Wednesdays — a deep work day with no distractions. If you reduce the number of days people can have meetings on, they’ll be more mindful about scheduling them.
If there’s no agenda, don’t have a meeting
If you arrive and there isn’t an agenda, the meeting is cancelled. Someone who has written an agenda has spent time thinking about the desired outcomes, who should be in the room and how much time should be spent on each discussion point. This helps cut down on meetings and make the remaining ones better.
Formulate agenda items as questions
For example, “What should we do about X? What's the best way of doing Y? Does everybody know about Z?” It helps participants formulate thoughts more easily. Your agenda could also include a purpose statement. It should read something like “by the end of this meeting, we will…” and then a couple of bullet points.
Schedule time for prep work
Most people bluff their way through meetings when they haven’t done the reading. Instead of hoping attendees will come prepared, get everyone on the same page by scheduling time at the beginning of a meeting for people to read or watch the required resources. It will make the discussion time more valuable.
Have opening and closing rounds
People always have a million things going on. It’s one thing getting people to a meeting, physically, and another to ensure they are present mentally. To get people to fully “arrive”, begin a meeting with an opening round. Get everyone to say their name, how they're feeling and one thing that's going well (a deliberately open question). The idea is that everybody pays attention to everyone else for that period and, crucially, that everybody has a chance to speak. When the meeting is actually in progress, it prevents the thing where you go, “Oh, I disagree but I haven't spoken so I feel a bit nervous. I’ll just bite my tongue.” Close with a round of similar questions with a few additions:
- What is one thing you valued from the meeting?
- What are you looking forward to?
Group feedback helps define what people think a good meeting is. This is more valuable than strict, leadership-imposed rules.
On the subject of... cutting down on meetings
❌ Get rid of all your meetings. Healthtech startup Alan may have no meetings and work completely asynchronously but it continues to churn out new features. How does it do it?
💪🏿 How can you make meetings great again? Our readers have some thoughts.
🤔 You need to be ruthless. To have fewer but better meetings, you need to be asking: “Does this meeting really need to happen? Could decisions be made in writing instead? Do I need to be there?”
⏰ Is your board meeting wasting everyone’s time? At their worst, board meetings can feel like a distraction — a tick-box exercise to placate key stakeholders. Here are 13 tips to get the most out of them for the sake of the company.
🤝🏽 Metaverse meetings suck. It’s impossible to create a strong company culture without any in-person interaction, according to the CEO of TravelPerk.