Another meeting? Really?

Meetings experience in a startup company

My experience is mostly in a lean startup mode, and my advice appropriately addresses that scope. I am aware that part of my analysis does not fit larger teams and challenges facing bigger scale operations.

In this post I refer to work meetings, not presentation style meetings (such as company updates, investor updates etc’, pitches).

There are countless methods and best practices to meetings, the goal is to just share my experience. Both what worked and didn’t.

A well known statistic shows that you spend approximately one third of your life sleeping (~25 years)¹, obviously depending on how soon you sold your startup (I joke!).

What’s even more awesomely depressing is that the average employee spends 2 years sitting in work meetings¹. In addition, this is purely a gut feeling, you spend 1.5 years of those wishing you were adding to your sleeping tally (some actually do…).

Meetings are great when participants feel comfortable expressing their opinions. Generally speaking, participants feel comfortable when they feel there are no barriers (or have overcome them) to speak about the subjects at matter. Also equally important is the recognition of their opinions.

The responsibility for a good meeting lies in the hands of the organizer (commonly also the moderator). Picking attendees, providing concise context, planning an optimal agenda and pre defining goals are vital for successful meetings, they are mostly fulfilled and satisfactory.

Turn attendees to participants

One of the bigger challenges facing a meeting moderator.

  • Drop attendees — first and foremost try screening who will attend. Select those who will most likely affect. Sometimes you get the “wedding invitation” situation. The attendee feels encumbered by the event and the organizer feels obligated to invite. Easily solvable by a casual talk before the meeting. Something like “Hey, we’re having a meeting about X, would you like to attend, I just don’t want to waste your time”.
  • Context is king — make sure that all attendees know what the meeting is about, down to a concrete level. Sending long documents and reading materials never works, a quick 5 minute talk with attendees that you think need more filling in goes a long way.
  • Mindfulness — a very influential (to me) post by Dustin Moskovitz² describes how Asana onboards new employees to a point where they feel super comfortable to express opinions and take active part in discussions. Since most startups don’t have the time or resources to implement what Asana is wonderfully doing, just make sure to control the conversation and exclude negativity. Comments like “that won’t work” or “I don’t like that idea” make people defensive at best, and discourage participation at worst. Nothing good comes out of it.
  • Tangibility — What helped me greatly in meetings is the sense that resolutions made will be implemented. Strictly derived from how meetings can go from cruising altitude to ground level, there were points in time when you can physically feel that everyone has the same concept and you can touch the solution (product / feature / marketing campaign). You get super pumped, opinionated and motivated. I loved those moments. All you want to do is work on that.
  • Implementation — following the last point. Make sure that execution promptly follows discussions. Otherwise enthusiasm diminish, which consequently discourages people from immersing themselves in future meetings.
  • Cut it short — if a meeting derails don’t be afraid to cut it short and regroup. I’ve sat through countless meetings where it was obvious no goal would be met. The greatest indicator was that people were simply uninterested, doing other work, playing with their phone, had glazed eyes. Time is the single most important resource startups don’t have, the last thing you want to do is not be efficient, if you feel time is wasted, cut the meeting short.

In short, a work meeting is a powerful tool. Don’t get to a point where you feel obligated to attend or initiate one when you know beforehand it won’t be fruitful.



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