How do you conduct a great meeting?
The best meeting I have ever been in was the one I got kicked out of. Keeping the right people in the room for the right reasons is the biggest contributing factor to successful meetings. Where people are sitting at any given point of time drives the level of value they can deliver to a business. If you are stuck inside a room you don't need to be in, then you can't deliver any value.
Humans love to gather. It is community. We also like to tell people stories - even if it's not always the best way to get across fact based information. There is something about sharing information in person that helps us feel better about the process.
Not formalizing your meeting processes as you grow may lead to a huge waste of time and loss for your business.
Once you have more than 2 people, the combination of possible groups that could come together sky rockets!
"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." — Al Bartlett
∑k=1n(nck)=2^n−1 and subtract an additional nc1(20c1), since there are no meetings of one.
or for 5:
2 ^ 5 -1 - 5 = 26
|Number of staff
(no more maths from here I promise!)
Your team of 10 have over 1000 combinations they could whisk away to have a meeting in!
So let's look at how some of innovative powerhouses do them to keep things as productive as possible:
Amazon are all about highly structured meetings.
Before any conversation or discussion begins, everyone sits for 30 minutes in total silence, carefully reading six-page printed memos. Reading together in the meeting guarantees everyone's undivided attention to the issues at hand. The real magic though happens before the meeting ever starts. It happens when the author is writing the memo.
What they do:
Their key meeting philosophies include:
- No powerpoint
- Use a 6 page narrative memo template
- First 30 minutes everyone silently reads the memo
Why it works:
Powerpoint is easy for the presenter, but hard for the audience. Meetings are very inefficient at communicating information if that is the only goal.
Power corrupts, and powerpoint corrupts absolutely
Effective meetings do not often include presenting. Powerpoints are the modern day equivalent of an old overhead projector transparent slide. Do you remember looking at those at school? Were you more interested looking at the machine than squinting at the text on the wall and trying to follow along?
If your meeting needs some visual aids, try providing them on paper or in advance.
6 page narrative:
"Full sentences are harder to write," Bezos says. “They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”
Everyone in attendance knows what to expect when you use a template.
The narrative for Amazon is structured like a dissertation defense:
- Opening context or question.
- Current or existing approaches to answer the question
- by whom,
- by which method,
- and their conclusions
- Answering how this attempt at solving the question is different or the same from previous approaches
- What happens next? now what? –
Amazon is always framed around what is in it for the customer, the company, and how does the answer to the question enable innovation on behalf of the customer?
It isn't just the structure of this template that is important - it is the length. Getting everything onto 6 pages really forces you to refine your thinking.
Think complex, speak simple.
Read for the first 30 minutes:
Spending the first 30 minutes of the meeting reading the 6 page memo gets everyone on the same page. Busy people often don't always have time to pre read or get up to speed on issues before the meeting takes place. By taking this time up front, everyone in attendance is assured to be of the same understanding on what is being outlined.
Instead of asking questions along the way in a traditional presentation, people know that they will most likely be answered on another page in the document. This then leaves only the truly unanswered questions left to be posed.
What they do:
- All meetings should have a clear decision maker.
- No more than 10 people at a meeting.
- Decisions should never wait for a meeting.
- Kill ideas and meetings.
Why it works:
Clear decision maker:
People in the room should always know their roles. When it comes to making decisions, leaving no ambiguity as to who is ultimately responsible leads to quicker meetings with less aimlessness.
No more than 10:
8 to 10 people is the target for Google meetings. Focusing on bringing only the relevant people who input, helps keep meetings moving. Observers or others who may benefit from the information in the meeting are given the minutes instead of taking their time not participating.
Decisions should not wait:
Decisions that are held up pending meetings stifle momentum and progress. Approval structures are critical to organizations but they should not depend on a certain group of people all being in the same room. If this is the case, then everything should be done to bring that meeting forward as much as possible.
Killing ideas and meetings: Focus
Killing ideas and meetings take discipline and focus. Really asking yourself "why are we doing this?" and ensuring the goals are aligned with company objectives are critical to optimizing meeting efficiency. Put simply, it's better to spend time on the things you should be doing than the things you shouldn't.
Under Steve Jobs, Apple grew a culture that allowed it to remain as flexible and agile as it could given its size. Part of this strategy comes down to how their meetings are run.
What they do
Why it works:
Directly Responsible Individual (DRI):
The concept of a Directly Responsible Individual breeds accountability. Everything has an owner who the rest of the team are clear on. Their name appears next to all of the agenda items they are responsible for.
There is no room for confusion about who should be getting what done with every task tagged.
Only the right people
Steve Jobs kept meetings as small as possible. Only people who could or should be a DRI should be there.
Ken Segall in his book "Insanely Simple" gave an example of what it was like to work with him:
"He stopped cold. His eyes locked on to the one thing in the room that didn't look right. Pointing to Lorrie, he said, ‘Who are you?'" Calmly, she explained that she was asked to the meeting because she was a part of related marketing projects. Jobs heard her, and then politely told her to get out. “I don't think we need you in this meeting, Lorrie. Thanks," he said.
Challenge and be challenged
If you are in a meeting to give input expect to be challenged. Everyone should be willing to defend their ideas and work from honest criticism. If a person has no ideas to defend, they should not be at the meeting. This helps keep only the people who need to be there in the room.
It also ensures a level of passion. You need to invest yourself in ideas to be willing to be critiqued and defend them. Engaged, invested people produce superior results.
Marissa Mayer brought many of her disciplines from her time at Google to Yahoo.
What they do
- Streamline decision making with data.
- Ask questions to resolve problems once and for all.
- Use the micro-meeting.
Why it works:
Streamline decision making with data
Data removes subjectivity from the picture. Decisions can go your way if you have the data to prove your claims.
Ask questions to resolve problems once and for all
There should be no assumptions. Similar to Apple if you are not ready to back up your claims, you are not ready to present your ideas. An openness to challenge each other help promote superior results through investing in your subject matter.
Use the micro-meeting
Time boxing meetings. You cannot waste time if you do not allow yourself to spend it. Pushing people to say what they need to say in 10 minutes enables Mayer to meet more people in less time.
What they do
- Use a Framework to structure the meeting.
- Use a Framework to help decide who should be involved.
Why it works:
Use a Framework to structure the meeting
- Define the objective and success criteria of the meeting.
- Send pre-read materials the day before.
- Identify who is driving.
- Take the time to define semantics (and first principles).
- Assign someone to take notes.
- Summarize key action items, deliverables, and points of accountability.
- Ask what you can do better.
- Distribute action items and notes.
- Cascade relevant information to teams.
- Follow up (keep your word).
The RAPID Framework for who should be involved:
The RAPID framework focuses on the nominating the right people to invite appropriately. It is a loose acronym covering Input, Recommend, Agree, Decide and Perform
- Person who Recommends a decision or action.
- Person who Agrees formally.
- Person who Performs and has accountability for the work.
- Person who Inputs extra details or points of view that may or may not align.
- Person who Decides on the action and commits the organization to action.
Generally meetings only need people who fulfill the R,A,P and D roles (and some people hold multiple roles. The I role can be updated outside of the meetings where decisions are actually made.
Common traits / tips
There are many common traits amongst these companies in how they conduct their effective meetings. With all of them it is not what those traits are that make them special, most are obvious in nature. It is the discipline to adhere to them that makes them work.
Implementing some templates and a meeting process can help guide and foster discipline. This would include:
An agreed over all meeting structure - make sure everyone is on the same page.
This should include:
- The type of meeting
- Inform (try to avoid these)
- Consult - gather input
- Solve problems / brainstorming
- Make decisions
- Build team or individual relationships - reviews and catchups
- Who are the right people to be there
- RAPID or another appropriate decision making structure
- Use a role check at the beginning of the meeting to ensure all appropriate people are there
- How long the meeting should be
- Always as short as possible to get the job done
- Try time limiting certain types of meetings to drive focus
- How you prepare, run, post meeting procedures
- Material prepared and provided advance
- Additional reading time at the beginning of the session
- Announcing and adhering to roles in a meeting
- Minutes taken and action items affirmed at the end
- The way you communicate inside the meeting
- Everyone prepare in advance their ideas rather than open discussion
- Time limiting speakers
- Asking "on a scale of 1 - 10" questions to get all participants talking
Meeting Minute capture structure**
- Categories for each note
- Each Item has a Directly Responsible Individual
The best meeting is the one that doesn't have to happen. If you can come up with a sound reason not to have one then don't do it!
However it's inevitable that people need to come together for some reason.
Formalize your meeting processes to save time and foster results.