People hate meetings because everyone is so lousy at them. Effective meetings can yield beautiful results.
I spend a lot of time in meetings and am surprised to see the stance that Shopify is taking to curb the amount of time their employees are spending in meetings.
Shopify’s approach, implementing a set of rules about how, when, and who can attend meetings, isn’t addressing the issue. That employees are meeting isn’t the problem–it’s how the meeting is conducted that makes the difference.
I have run companies remotely for more than two decades. Focusing on the following aspects ensures that meetings accomplish their intended purpose.
Invite the Right People
Whether it’s two people or 200 people, a meeting is effective only when the right people attend.
How do you know if the right people are attending? Invite only contributors and those who need to participate as the information is shared in real-time.
For those who don’t need to be there but need the information, a great alternative is to record the meeting and share it for review. My personal hack is to watch pre-recorded meetings at 1.5 times the speed. A 30-minute meeting, once you skip through the intros and meeting setup, can be cut down to 10 or 15 minutes, and I can watch it on my own time.
Have a Purpose
Every meeting should have an agenda, provided in advance, with all of the relevant documents that will be covered.
Meetings should discuss work and move it forward–they are not meant for doing work. The most ineffective meetings are those that devolve into aimless working sessions where no decisions are made.
A tip to avoiding a useless meeting–make sure the agenda includes a final bullet that requires attendees to recap the next steps and decisions made with a specific owner for each item.
I run my company on, and am a huge advocate of, the Entrepreneurial Operating System–EOS. It’s based on the book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by entrepreneur Gino Wickman. EOS teaches teams to run meetings using a process called IDS, which stands for:
- Identify. Identify the underlying issue, not the symptom. Is the problem that John is incompetent and making mistakes, or is it really that John needs training?
- Discuss. Discuss the issue. What impact is the issue having on the organization or customers? This is where most meetings get stuck. Teams love to discuss. It takes a strong leader in the meeting to move the team forward once the issue has been properly discussed.
- Solve. Agree to actionable next steps that will solve the issue with a specific owner assigned. This is the beautiful result of an effective meeting.
Trick the Time Continuum
Parkinson’s law, which states that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion, applies to meetings as well. If you book an hour for a meeting, it will take an hour.
I have several meetings that are only 15 minutes long. Guess what? We get done in 15 minutes.
This is one of the biggest drawbacks of hybrid work. It doesn’t allow for those quick meetings that happen in the hallways, across the cube walls, or in the break room. Using shorter meeting times, scheduling meetings to start or stop at odd times, and functionality like Slack huddle is a way to accomplish the goal of a meeting without the formality and gain time back in your calendar.
Understand When It’s a Meeting, and When It’s Something Else
There is a difference between a meeting and a social gathering, and there is a need for both in our world of no office, hybrid work, where the importance of establishing, maintaining, and growing connections is both harder and incredibly important.
My company’s favorite meeting is really a social gathering. We’re a hybrid team of about 50. About a dozen of us are in our Atlanta HQ. The rest of us are spread across the U.S. and Canada. We meet in the middle of the week and share headlines, do a company bonding event, and do some training. It’s purposefully light and meant to bring the company together to just be.
In the new hybrid work world, where serendipitous conversations can’t happen naturally in the office, scheduling meetings to discuss work and move it forward is unavoidable. Focusing on what happens during the meetings is more important than trying to police whether a meeting should be held at all.