“Meetings are always an art,” says Lily Chang, chief of staff at Hopin and former chief of staff at travel giant Expedia. “They’re never really perfect so, especially at startups, you have to constantly be checking to see if they’re working and effective.” She gave our Startup Life newsletter her tips on where to start with one of the most critical meetings of all — your leadership team meeting.
Pick a time for the meeting — and stick to it
Then everyone can commit to that time. At Hopin, we now do our leadership team meeting midweek Wednesday, for an hour. Generally, if there are pre-reads and the purpose of the meeting is discussion or to make decisions, that enables us to work through one to two topics together. If it's something that’s more strategic, one topic may deserve more time — 1.5 hours or more. Having an hour blocked together weekly helps us feel closer — it’s a helpful rhythm and cadence to see the team together.
Keep your camera on
We don’t have a rule about this, but it’s helpful if people keep their cameras on for the meeting so we can gauge reactions and sentiments. We love using the chat and reactions to make comments about the topics, but also it helps build camaraderie and gives the team some energy (and drives engagement). If I want a free-flow conversation, I ask that the team unmute if they’re in a quiet enough place so that we aren't stilted by mute.
If I want a free-flow conversation, I ask that the team unmute if they’re in a quiet enough place so that we aren't stilted
Share updates asynchronously
When I joined Hopin, team leaders were sharing updates in a Google doc and we'd meet weekly on a Monday. Then, once we had "an exec team" we evolved to sharing updates on a rotating basis in Slack every week. So we'd have the go-to-market lead share key updates, challenges, wins and where they need help from the team right at the start of a new month, then the following week would be our product/engineering/design updates, then G&A (legal, finance, tech ops/security) and then the people team. We're revamping this so we'll soon share these updates in Guru, where we have our knowledge base. If you don’t have much synchronous time [as a leadership team] you don’t want to spend it hearing people’s updates. You’d rather have the discussion.
If you don’t have much synchronous time [as a leadership team] you don’t want to spend it hearing people’s updates
Have a (loose) agenda
I keep a running list of topics we need to discuss as a group, and slot them into the agenda according to relevancy, urgency and need. I review these with Johnny Boufarhat [Hopin’s founder] beforehand, then I share the agenda with the team a few days ahead of the meeting. Try to keep agenda items to topics that are relevant to everyone to make the best use of the time together. Our meeting starts off with what’s top of mind for Johnny. Sometimes we stick to an agenda and stick close to time. Other times we get onto an interesting topic, which is worth exploring, and that takes over the meeting. It's helpful to have a framework, but you also have to know when to be flexible.
Rotate the topics you focus on
We have a financial update in the middle of the month. We earmark time once per month for a people discussion. The other topics you’d pick would depend on the makeup of the team — but you should focus on topics everyone in the company needs to know. Use operational meetings for more specific discussions.
The people in your leadership meeting should be those who solve the big hairy decisions
Invite the key decision makers
When you’re moving fast, ideally everyone makes decisions — but the people in your leadership meeting should be those who solve the big hairy decisions. You generally want somebody representing legal, people and finance. How you determine who else comes depends on the makeup of the company. At Hopin, we’re so product focused that we have had the general managers of each product attend. For a while, we also had a lot of GTM [go-to-market] leaders as well, but we realised that it was getting too big.
Switch up who gets invited
If the purpose of your meeting is to make decisions, a smaller group is better; six to eight people is ideal. [Disinviting people from the meeting] is part of the growing up phase of a startup. Acknowledge what they’ve done to get you to this point.
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Note down actions from the meeting
We have a running Google doc with the agenda, where we capture actions and tag people. Somebody — who could be the chief of staff — should remind them of those actions.