How To Use Meetings To Supercharge Business Growth
Besides the ever-malfunctioning printer and Jan-with-the-annoying-laugh, there is almost nothing more universally reviled in the business world than office meetings.
You know what I’m talking about. The one where you drag yourself into the conference room where everyone is prodded by the overly peppy floor manager to share one cool thing they did over the weekend. The one that’s only meant to go on for five minutes, but seems to last five years. And the entire time, you’re thinking to yourself about how much you could be getting done if you weren’t stuck in a stupid meeting.
Talk to any startup founder, and they almost always will tell you one thing they want in their company culture: “There’ll be no more meetings!”
And yet, over time, we all eventually fold and start gathering the team, first monthly, then every other week, and next thing you know, you’re googling for articles like this about how to hold better meetings.
I get it, you’re an entrepreneur and you’re used to moving fast and making decisions on your own. But when you become the leader of a team, you just don’t have that luxury anymore. In order to move as fast as you want, you’re going to need to accept the fact that meetings are an inescapable part of life.
But they don’t have to be terrible.
We’re a pretty fast-moving startup, and we hold tons of meetings at Foundr. In fact, it’s one of the key reasons why we’re able to grow so fast. I’ll show you how we do it at Foundr, and how your startup can benefit from what we’ve learned about holding productive and, more importantly, painless meetings.
What Even Is A Meeting?
While it’s tempting to tar all meetings with the same brush as irrelevant time-wasters, consider first that a lot of the meetings we sit through aren’t really meetings. A lot of the time, it’s just a place where people gather with no real point and say a bunch of stuff. So first of all, let’s be clear about what makes a proper meeting.
A meeting should:
- At all times have a clear and defined objective
- Have an agenda that’s worth adhering to
- Be a place where team members can communicate with one another freely
- Have everyone attending be on the same page when it ends
- Stay within a set, reasonable timeframe
The reason they’re important is that a well-functioning team lives and dies on its ability to communicate with one another.
Creating a space where people can communicate and share ideas in real time not only makes you more efficient, but it saves time and money.
Think of it like this:
Your business is a machine and each individual on your team is a gear, and communication is the oil that makes sure that they smoothly work together. When there’s only a couple of gears then you only need a little oil. But in order to keep a whole bunch of gears working together, regular upkeep is essential to keep the whole thing from grinding to a halt.
Instead of looking at meetings as a chore that you have to suffer through, recognize how important they are in helping you maintain healthy communication within your team.
The 5 Ingredients of a Painless and Productive Meeting
To be clear, when you need to boost your communication, the solution isn’t just to pile on more meetings. The most elegant solution is to stop having unnecessary and unproductive meetings and start making your meetings more efficient. That way, even if you’re interacting more, you can end up with no net change in time spent.
The reason most of us have a bad taste in our mouth at the thought of attending a meeting is that most of them are completely irrelevant or don’t uphold all of the five rules above.
It’s kind of like saying all movies are stupid when all you’ve ever seen are Kevin James movies, which can barely be called movies anyway.
While it’s true that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to holding effective meetings, there are, however, five clear hallmarks that every effective meeting possesses, and they are:
Every effective meeting needs a clearly defined leader to make sure that the meeting is running on time, the agenda is being followed, and discussion isn’t going off-track.
While this seems easy on paper, running an effective meeting is actually a lot harder than it looks. Chances are, 90 percent of the reason meetings go badly is because of ineffective or nonexistent meeting leadership.
To be an effective leader, not only do you have to plan ahead, but you also need to find a way to keep your team members engaged and inspired. Remember that this is your chance to strengthen and clarify your company’s vision and direction.
Doing the bare minimum is a waste of everyone’s time.
A Clear Goal
Before you hit “send” on that calendar invite, ask yourself, what is the purpose of your meeting. What do you actually want to get out of it? Otherwise, you’re just holding an awkward conversation with a bunch of people.
Whatever it is, the goal needs to be made clear so that every single person knows what they’re driving towards. By the end of every meeting, everyone should know exactly what is required of them and what they need to do. I’d recommend setting SMART goals for your meetings.
The agenda is your path to that goal, and how the leader makes sure that the meeting stays on track.
Now you might favor blocking out specific chunks of time for certain talking points, for example, there’s the standard format of: “What have you done, what are you doing, what’s holding you back?” Or you might have a looser outline of action items you want to go over.
Remember that everyone attending a meeting has incomplete information, and the purpose of every meeting is to fill those gaps of knowledge so everyone can accomplish something together.
Agendas can differ from meeting to meeting, but they do need to be outlined in advance. Everyone should be made aware of what the agenda of the meeting is so they can prepare accordingly, or you risk having the meeting go off the rails.
During every meeting, each team member should have a clear list of what they need to contribute.
Of course, the most basic requirement is to attend the meeting, but the leader can assign roles to others like note taking, preparing materials beforehand, or asking everyone to speak at least once, for example. These simple requirements make it so that you know each team member is engaged and paying attention.
After the meeting, everyone should be on the same page and know exactly what actions are required of them.
A Time Limit
One of the major reasons people hate meetings is that they go on for way too long. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve looked at the clock and felt betrayed because what was meant to be a 15-minute meeting has been going on for an hour.
Let’s be real here, taking part in any meeting requires significant mental energy. Anytime a meeting goes overtime, you can immediately feel that energy draining away faster as the seconds tick by.
Set time limits on your meetings and stick to them. If you don’t get the chance to go over everything you wanted to talk about, maybe it’s time to rethink your agenda.
Foundr’s Approach to Effective Meetings
Now that we know why and how to start holding effective meetings, here’s how we do ours at Foundr. Like all startups, we’re by no means perfect, but we have hammered out a pretty tight process for our meetings. It’s served us very well and should work for most other teams.
We quickly realized here that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to holding an effective meeting. So we tailor our meetings to specific goals, to make sure every meeting is aimed at getting things done.
Without further ado, here are the 6 different types of meetings we do at Foundr:
1 on 1 Meetings Build Connections
The one-on-one meeting is vital in helping leaders keep communication open between themselves and their team members.
According to the Work and Well-Being survey by the American Psychological Association, just over a quarter of employees feel satisfied with the level of communication between themselves and their managers. That’s specifically around how well their managers communicate their organizations’ goals and strategies, and how valued they feel.
The purpose of the one-on-one meeting is to give you the ability, as a leader, to offer support where needed, further build the relationship between you and your employee, and realign mutual goals and objectives.
It sounds simple, but you’ll often find many startup founders are quick to ditch the one-on-one check-ins, simply because they’re afraid of awkward conversations.
Yes, it might be awkward being forced to speak with a single person, especially if you consider yourself introverted. But you have to remember that companies are built on people, and if the prospect of speaking with a potentially unsatisfied employee frightens you, then perhaps you need to rethink your position as a leader.
Your one-on-one meetings can go for anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour, and they can happen as frequently as you want. Whether it’s once a week, once a month, or only once a quarter, the important thing is that you’re making sure to keep it regular and make it a priority. Showing that you care enough to prioritize these one-on-one meetings signals to an employee that you care about their personal development too.
At Foundr, one-on-one meetings with our CEO Nathan typically happen once a week and last for an hour, and they’re mainly used as a way for Nathan to check in on what we’re working on and how he can help.
We typically work off a Trello board which lists our overall monthly goals, and our weekly and daily tasks.
At the start of every week, Nathan and I will go over my personal board and he’ll help me prioritize what tasks need the most attention, and help me with ones that I might be stuck on. It’s a great way for me to air out any concerns I might have over any specific task without having to crowd his inbox, and it keeps him aware of my own personal development and how I’m pushing the needle forward within the company.
Nailing the Dangerous Daily Huddle
Ah the daily huddle, inspired by legendary industrialist John D. Rockefeller, and popularized by the SCRUM style of product management. The daily huddle (otherwise known as the daily standup, daily pulse, daily agile, daily scrum…you get the idea) has become a staple in startup culture.
Walk into any office in Silicon Valley in the morning (or garage/basement/cardboard-box-underneath-a-bridge because, let’s face it, we’re talking about Silicon Valley here) and you’ll find some version of a daily huddle going on. Startups love the daily huddle, and yet so many get them wrong.
Real talk—Foundr was one of them.
When we first started doing daily huddles, they were incredibly unproductive. Originally, they were slated to only go on for about 15 minutes, but they always ran over, with people often going on random tangents and nothing ever truly getting solved. It was a disaster and, for a while, the bane of my existence.
We kept up this experiment for close to four months before finally deciding to call it quits, a decision, I must confess, I couldn’t have been happier about.
But we recently started trying them out again, only this time with some much-needed changes, and they’ve been going swimmingly.
We realized the biggest problem with our daily huddles was that we were treating them as though they were about problem-solving when really they should be about problem-identification. With our new daily huddles, we’ve adopted a mentality that, if a problem can’t be solved in one sentence, then it should be solved outside the huddle. This simple shift in mentality has saved us huge amounts of time as a team.
These days, our huddles only go on for five minutes, and only members of the executive team need to take a part in them. Everyone is given one minute to answer the following three questions:
- What did you accomplish since the last meeting?
- What are you working on until the next meeting?
- What is getting in your way or keeping you from doing your job?
It’s short, simple, and to the point.
Having someone, in this case, our community manager Joanna, making sure everyone sticks to their time limit means that we only ever address core issues. Plus these three questions keep everyone accountable and give each team member insight into what each individual’s workload is like.
Something else that we’ve implemented in our daily huddles, and something I highly recommend, is holding them just before lunch. That way the meeting doesn’t disrupt the flow of the day, and we’re free to discuss whatever problems were raised over lunch in a casual setting.
Also, everyone has to answer their three questions while planking, so that helps too.
Traffic Light Meetings Keep Things Moving
Everyone knows what a traffic light looks like. If not, let me refresh your memory both for the safety of your fellow citizens on the road and so you’ll understand the rest of this article:
Red means stop, yellow means slow down, and green means go.
A traffic light meeting is when all the decision makers of a company discuss what is holding the company back (red), what has slowed us down (yellow), and what is moving forward (green). Generally, at the end of every meeting, the leader should be listing out the points raised in the meeting and assigning them a color.
The purpose of the traffic light meeting is to give everyone an understanding of how well a business is moving toward achieving its overall vision and goals.
For example, let’s say one of your business’s goals is to release a new product by a certain date. If that project is suffering major setbacks, then it should be colored red, if you’re only a little off track then it should be yellow, and if it’s going smoothly then it should be green.
A traffic light meeting is effective because this simple code tells every member of the executive team what is and isn’t working within the business. It also makes it easier to pinpoint what strategies and objectives require the most attention.
Just like with the daily huddles, a traffic light meeting is all about problem-identification and not about problem-solving. Although unlike the daily huddle, a traffic light meeting allows more time for team members to seek feedback and possible solutions to obstacles that they’ve encountered.
We host our traffic light meetings at the start of every week at Foundr, to give us a chance to assess how we’re tracking on meeting our big picture goals. The agenda of these weekly meetings usually goes like this:
- Everyone gives a one-word barometer of how they’re feeling that week to get us started
- We go through our goals and assign them colors
- Everyone gets a chance to raise concerns over red and yellow items, and ask for feedback
- We share the wins of the previous week
While you don’t have to follow ours to the tee, I do suggest that you make it a priority to celebrate your wins too. It can be anything from small individual wins like someone hitting their targets, or simply sharing testimonials and reviews by customers. It’s a great way to keep everyone focused, and motivated about what they’re working toward.
Innovation Meetings Change the Game
As the name suggests, innovation meetings are all about finding new or unique ways to fuel the growth machine within your startup.
How each startup goes about their innovation meetings can vary. Some businesses will hold hackathons, others might prefer a roundtable-style discussion. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that what works for others might not work for you.
Depending on your company culture and what your team looks like, you have to find a style that brings the best out of your own team.
But before you get started, remember that the key to getting the most out of your own innovation meetings is all about being in the right mindset. What you’re looking for are big ideas to push things forward, not just what your next product may look like or how to redesign the office.
True innovation comes from pursuing things not from a desire for money, but from a desire to bring about change. It’s imperative that each attendee of your innovation meeting has that mindset right from the get go.
In case you need help, I highly recommend checking out Guy Kawasaki’s TED talk about the “Art of Innovation.”
For our own innovation meetings at Foundr, we do something of a mashup of Brian Balfour’s Growth Machine strategy, and some techniques we’ve picked up working with Ed Dale. We’ll usually hold them at the start of every quarter, and at the start of every new project.
Here’s what they generally look like:
- We go over the purpose of the meeting—whether we’re trying to brainstorm a new product, or figure out a new project’s strategy, for example.
- We start a timer that gives everyone two minutes to write down as many different ideas as they can on a post-it note.
- Everyone goes up and sticks their post-it notes to a board, while giving a brief explanation behind each idea.
- Then the whole team votes on all the ideas using the Brownlow point system to figure out what ideas or tasks should take higher priority.
- We discuss strategies and tactics about how we’re going to bring the top three to five ideas to life, down to the very minute details.
- Roles and responsibilities are assigned.
After that, we all get to work.
Our innovation meetings have been known to go on for hours, sometimes taking up whole days. But in an innovation meeting, you want to leave no stone unturned, and it should be a space where ideas can be exchanged freely and you can dive deep on each one.
It’s precisely because of these meetings that we have products like Start and Scale, our online course about building an e-commerce business, or Foundr Version 1.0, the world’s greatest startup manual.
Without them, there’s no way we’d be able to grow as fast as we do.
Remote Meetings Close the Gap
While Foundr’s executive team is based in Melbourne, we do have members of our team all over the globe, making it necessary to hold some of our meetings entirely online.
With one prediction that half of the world’s workforce will be working remotely by 2020, it’s almost inevitable that at some point during your career, you’ll find yourself in an online meeting.
For remote meetings, it’s extra important that communication is as clear and as concise as possible. Unlike in-person meetings, where it’s much easier to communicate, remote meetings require extra attention to detail.
With the content team at Foundr being spread across three different time zones, we’ve grown to be quite adept at hosting these.
Considering the fact the majority of human communication is non-verbal, remote meetings don’t offer the benefit of being able to read body language or social cues one normally takes for granted. Having a clearly laid out agenda that everyone has access to before the meeting even starts is vital.
Without it, you’ll find yourself in a situation where everyone is talking over one another and nothing gets solved. Jenna, our managing editor, creates a tight agenda beforehand that we all go through together in a Google Doc, complete with necessary hyperlinks for reference. She’s a master at running these meetings with minimal digression and maximum efficiency.
As you can see, we’ll go over items like our editorial calendar and our process first, things that usually have quick answers, and we’ll leave longer discussion items for the end so we don’t eat up the whole meeting on a couple agenda items.
When you’re hosting a remote meeting, you also want to make sure that you’re using the right tools.
For negotiating different time zones, I’d suggest you consider using Calendly, a scheduling tool that can automatically adjust time zones for you. Or you can manually check over the different time zones yourself with something like World Time Buddy.
Again, and I cannot stress this enough, for remote meetings, you want to make sure that communication is as clear as possible. Using a doc-sharing platform like Google Docs can be very helpful in making sure that everyone is literally on the same page, instead of having multiple copies of the same document flying around, and people asking, “Where are we now?”
Finally, make sure that it’s someone’s responsibility to take notes and create action items at the end of every meeting. And a word to the wise, send out the action items immediately after the meeting. You don’t want to suffer that brutal post-conference call pitfall of, “Didn’t we say we were going to do X in the last meeting??”
And that’s pretty much how we do it. Again, every team is different, and you’ve got to figure out the right formula for yours. But this has worked very well for us, and even if you copy it exactly, I think there’s a good chance it will work for most teams, with a little tweaking around the margins.
But the take-home message here is, being a fast-moving startup does not mean that you can or should abandon the concept of meetings. Quite the opposite. Meetings equal communication, and communication equals acceleration.
Holding meetings as a startup just means that, like so many things in the entrepreneurial world, we just do it better.
How To Use Meetings To Supercharge Business Growth was originally published on Foundr