Effective Meetings

I’ve spent more time than I care to remember sat in meetings feeling like I’m wasting my time. Almost everyone I know has experienced something similar — we are left wondering why we were invited and whether the meeting is actually providing any benefit to our business. My frustration with unproductive meetings led me to Paul Boag’s recent piece on the subject. Like a few others I know, I’ve occasionally passed the time in particularly boring meetings by working out the hourly wage of those in attendance and totting up the total cost in man-hours. It’s usually been pretty high. In fact, in 2012 it was estimated that UK businesses lost £26bn through ineffective meetings.

How do we fix this then?

We can start by holding fewer meetings. At Sparta Global, we’ve reduced the need for face-to-face meetings and conference calls significantly by adopting Slack for internal communications. We still need meetings, but the fact that a lot of issues can be solved through discussion on a slack channel means that they’re less frequent and often much shorter.

Another way to reduce the number and length of meetings is to hold them over videoconference. We use a combination of Skype and GotoMeeting to achieve this. Because GoToMeeting is integrated with Slack, it’s very easy for a few people to jump on a video call and have a quick discussion.

GoToMeeting and Slack integration.

Of course, there are lots of occasions where in-person meetings are far-and-away the best option. At the few meetings we do hold, people are a lot more engaged because they know that the meeting is actually necessary.

Reducing the frequency of meetings isn’t the only goal though, we also want to make meetings as effective as possible. We apply three basic rules when calling meetings:

  1. Only invite people that need to be there and have the authority to make necessary decisions. Anyone else can attend if they want to, but they shouldn’t be required. If someone is needed for part of the meeting, only invite them to that part.
  2. Publish a well-defined agenda in advance, with clear agenda items and a set time allocated to each.
  3. Record the actions and decisions made in the meeting meticulously, and share them as soon after the meeting as possible.

We’ve been looking for a tool to help us apply some of these rules for a while and we recently stumbled across Pinstriped.

What’s Pinstriped, then?

Pinstriped is a newish tool for coordinating and running meetings (it’s OSX only at the moment, and is still in Beta. It’s therefore a little bit buggy). Let’s have a look at how it works…

First, we need to create a new meeting by providing a title, timings, location and attendees (we can import an existing meeting from OSX’s calendar). We also need to set an objective for the meeting. Notice how I’ve tried to keep the objective quite pointed. Vague objectives don’t help anyone.

Next, we need to add some agenda items and set the timings for each.

Finally, we can attach any documents and links that people should read before the meeting along with those we’ll need during the meeting.

We’ve now got the option to send a pre-meeting email, containing the agenda and the details of the meeting. This includes a calendar invite to accept the meeting. Here’s what it looks like:

Once we’re actually in the meeting, we can hook up a TV and display the meeting’s objective, agenda and files. Pinstriped keeps time for us, showing visually how long we have left for each agenda item:

It also provides us with a way to record actions and notes during meetings:

Once the meeting has finished any notes, actions or screen captures that have been made are added to the details. We can also add a summary:

These details can then be sent to all the attendees in an auto-generated follow-up email:

How do we rate Pinstriped?

If we ignore the fact that it’s still in beta, it’s a great application, which helps to remove the pain from arranging, running and following up meetings. That said, we won’t be adopting it company-wide until it’s a little more mature, more specifically:

  • The bugs have been ironed out.
  • The interface for recording notes and action items during meetings is more user-friendly.
  • They have a Windows app.
  • They have an iOS app (a number of our meetings occur without laptops, and just with an iPad or iPhone).

We hope they’re able to get this stuff off the ground quickly!