"I love meetings," said no one ever.
Still, occasionally gathering the team around the conference room table is a necessity for most companies; especially during the early years, when growth requires extensive communication.
Unfortunately, many employees come to view what should be an energizing experience as something mind-numbingly unproductive. Though the reasons for this common occurrence are multifaceted; the primary culprits are poor leadership, lack of focus, and lack of substance.
Though it should go without saying, we sometimes need to remind ourselves: Meetings should never be held for the sake of having meetings.
When building a company poised for fast growth, it is imperative that employees are motivated, productive, and working on tasks with a high degree of efficiency. The only way to keep things running smoothly is for team members to routinely communicate what's working, what's not, and what might be done instead. It is in this capacity that meetings can be of value.
7 Ways to Make Your Startup's Meetings More Productive
Regularly meeting provides a great opportunity to keep team members abreast of new developments, reinforce company culture, and provide a sounding board for employee ideas. How can startup founders approach holding meetings so that they are time efficient and yield value?
Here are seven ways to take your tech startup's meetings from time-sucks to super productive.
1. Avoid The Fluff
All meetings must have a stated purpose. Without an agenda, meetings can easily turn into aimless social gatherings rather than productive working sessions. Attendees should walk in knowing exactly what will be discussed and walk out knowing exactly what to do next.
Several world-renowned organizations, from Apple to Toastmasters, insist upon attendees leaving meetings with actionable tasks.
Brivo, a security management software provider, keeps meetings on topic with its “No Rehash” rule. Should someone reroute to a topic that has already been discussed, another employee may signal a warning by raising the “No Rehash” Ping-Pong paddle.
As Steve Van Till, Brivo CEO and founder told Fast Company:
It’s a visual reminder, but more importantly, it empowers everyone in the company to call out counterproductive rehashing whenever and wherever they see it. The big time savings is that no one has to justify invoking the rule itself, and the meeting can proceed with earlier decisions intact.
If paddle signaling isn't your style, you can still keep meetings focused by emailing session agendas in advance and following a standard meeting format each time.
Meeting to hone your VC pitch? Grab our quick guide: 12 Things You Should Know About Raising A Seed Round for The Tips and Best Practices To Make Your Fundraising Rollercoaster More Productive.
2. Keep It Short
Fail to agree upon an end time, and talking points will inevitably turn into ramblings. How short should your meetings be? Thirty minutes seems to be the ideal number for many companies.
Both Tripping.com (a vacation rental search engine) and Just Fearless (a business consulting firm) set their stopwatches for thirty minutes at the beginning of every meeting.
They also both have penalties for going over: Tripping puts the responsibility on the meeting organizer, requiring him or her to place $5 in "The Beer Jar." Conversely, Just Fearless holds everyone accountable by requiring attendees to stand during overage time.
If you really want to make an impact, try keeping sessions under 18 minutes. Research shows it's the maximum amount of time for focused listening. The TED Talk series has taken this to heart with their wildly successful, 18-minute presentations, proving constraint does indeed breed creativity.
3. Encourage Engagement
Does everyone on your team feel comfortable speaking up? While you may assume the answer is yes, the reality is you can't know for sure.
Though most founders commendably try to have "open-door policies," not every team member will take advantage of them. The reason could be anything from poor experiences at previous organizations where their ideas weren't valued, or an introverted personality. Savvy meeting organizers make sure to involve every attendee because they know the best ideas often come from unexpected places.
Josh Neblett, co-founder and CEO of the e-commerce company Etailz, uses the last 10 minutes of his company meetings for Q&A. If no one has a question, team members sit in silence until the clock runs out. The idea is that eventually someone will verbalize what they have been thinking, but for whatever reason have avoided asking. As Neblett told 99U:
The questions always end up being useful and universally applicable, but sometimes it takes a couple minutes for the dam to break.
Beyond basic ideation, team members should be pushed to defend their statements, strategies, and opinions. Creating a healthy dialogue where everyone has to defend his or her ideas will ultimately yield better results for everyone.
4. Change It Up
Let's face it, conference rooms can get pretty boring. Which is why entrepreneurs like Richard Branson hold team meetings in unexpected places. Branson claims new environments generate fresh ideas his employees might not have otherwise had.
Science tends to agree; researchers have found evidence to support the hypothesis that our physical environment can speed up the process of neurogenesis—the rate at which our brain creates new neurons and neural connections.
Translation: New environments equal more neural opportunities for facilitating change.
If you are not meeting in the conference room, where should you meet?
Parks, shorelines, and coffee shops are all great options. Hesitant to leave the office? Consider meeting in a less frequented room like the kitchen. If you're growing your startup in a coworking space, you have a slight advantage, as coworking facilities generally have a variety of diversely styled rooms for the choosing.
Alternatively, you can always take a cue from Facebook Engineering Manager, Mark Tonkelowitz, who holds 15-minute stand-ups at 12 p.m. daily – no chairs and an impending lunchtime keep people on-point.
5. Start At 8:48 a.m.
Ok, we are not seriously suggesting you start your meetings at 8:48 a.m.! However, that is exactly what works for team members of TINYpulse, an employee engagement software provider. Reportedly, the bizarre meeting time serves as an unforgettable memory trigger.
As Communications Manager Neal McNamara told Fast Company:
It’s eliminated tardiness almost completely. It’s strange, but at 8:48, everyone in our office seems to rise simultaneously and move toward our meeting area. There’s definitely a Pavlovian aspect to the odd meeting time.
Why does it work so well? Our guess is that employees are more cognizant of reminding themselves of the time since it's such an odd number. The kind of people who run five minutes late, usually do so because they get a little too relaxed in regards to the clock.
6. Rotate Meeting Leaders
Every meeting needs a pre-determined leader to keep things running along. Just because you are the CEO, doesn't mean you should lead every meeting. Handing off the reins is actually a great way to instill greater confidence in team members.
Another way to do things is to rotate departments; that way each department has the opportunity to really delve into their unique goals, challenges, and how they fit into the company as a whole. Such opportunities allow the presenting department to gather insights from others that could improve the workflows of all departments. As John Greathouse suggested for Business Insider:
Do not allow the departmental leaders to give these presentations. Give the limelight to someone who normally would not have a chance to publicly speak, such as a director or manager.
A quick reminder: Decisions should never wait for meetings. Otherwise, momentum, efficiency, and productivity can come to a rapid halt. However, should a meeting need to happen for a group decision to be made, hold it as soon as possible.
7. Eliminate Tech
Finally, consider enforcing a "no technology" policy during meetings. The benefits of this are twofold: Improved health and better cognition. Chances are the majority of your employees are engaged with a screen for more than 95 percent of the workday already.
As reported by CNN, people usually blink around 18 times per minute, which refreshes the eyes naturally. Unfortunately, blink rates typically reduce when staring at a digital device. "We definitely see a lot of people who complain of eyestrain," said ophthalmologist Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler. "Hours upon hours of close focusing without taking a break is usually the main culprit."
Make meetings a mandatory "power-off zone," and team members may eventually see them as a relaxing reprieve that allows for free thought, without distraction. Additionally, research shows conceptual recall is significantly better after taking handwritten notes as opposed to typing. The bottom-line: Attendees should always be fully engaged.
Meet At RocketSpace
Now that you have seven handy ways to facilitate more productive startup meetings, call everyone together for a quick meeting to tell them how you are going to improve your meetings (just kidding). While there is no silver bullet for making all meetings successful, implementing any one of these suggestions will definitely yield improvements. As previously mentioned, one of the easiest ways to enhance success is to vary your location.
If you are a startup founder who is considering coworking, we recommend RocketSpace. Our tech campus, located in downtown San Francisco, offers:
- Flexible monthly leases
- Hot seating, private desks, and turnkey offices
- A variety of meeting and lounge areas
- Members-only amenities, networking events, and corporate introductions
Wondering if RocketSpace is right for your tech startup?
Click here for a free day pass and find out.