How we have managed to reduce meeting times and deliver more
During the Covid-19 crisis, like a lot of companies, Back Market switched to fully remote operations. Technically, we were ready for it (we were already Zoom lovers and have teams in 4 offices across the EU and the US).
But after several weeks, we felt that people were getting more and more overbooked.
Facts and data are often better than feelings so I made a quick test trying to find a slot for a 30-minute meeting with 5 randomly picked BackMakers and this is what I saw:
So, we decided to take action.
Values show the way!
At BackMarket our only and cardinal value is SABOTAGE! supported by 5 principles. We started to work around these principles and adapted them to apply to our meetings:
- “Minimum resources, maximum impact” → Don’t waste people’s time. Every meeting must have a concrete purpose
- “Loving Tribe” → Be on time and start on time, don’t interrupt people, ask the opinions of those who have stayed silent, laptops and phones closed
- “Think deep, decide fast” → We separate the thinking and deciding (being deep and fast at the same time is very complex)
- “This is Sparta” → Disagree and commit. Once a decision is made, we abide by it until new data arises that changes the decision’s premises
While tenets like these are a good starting point, they aren’t specific enough to really make a difference in our day-to-day routines, so we moved from these to create more specific guidelines for improving efficiency.
Our SABOTAGE! meeting guidelines
1st Guideline: “WRITING IS KING”
The best meeting is no meeting
WRITING is your Calendar’s best friend:
- Finding an asynchronous solution (like a weekly information email, or a request for feedback on a document) is much easier on everyone’s schedule, and gives people more flexibility (working on it when they want).
WRITING is efficient
- Writing only takes one person’s time versus a meeting, which takes the meeting’s duration multiplied by the number of attendees. If you do need to meet, writing ahead of time and building the groundwork allows flexibility and a deeper focus on the salient issues to be discussed. Ultimately, when the meeting takes place it ensures everyone is already on the same page.
- Do you need answers or need to share information? Most of the time, emails or documents are the best way to clearly lay out all your ideas. Of course, if you want to make sure people read what you write, you need to ask for an acknowledgment. Don’t be afraid to tag.
- Written documents are generally more adapted to critical thinking because people need time to fully wrap their minds around ideas — especially complicated ones. Writing leads to more constructive feedback. Once everyone has had time to chew their thoughts, discussions, and decisions are naturally more efficient and adapted to being done in real-time.
2nd Guideline: 4 kinds of meetings — DREAM, DESIGN, DECIDE, SHARE
A meeting should always serve one of the following purposes:
> To make a decision that requires the opinion and agreement of several participants.
> To brainstorm or to Think about complex projects and identify/dig into potential scenarios.
> To make/deliver a difficult decision.
> To get people pumped up and excited about a new project or brief.
(Extract from the 25th hour book)
At Back Market, we’ve defined four types of meetings: Dream, Design, Decide, Share.
Each has a different:
- Goal(s) (Why)
- Agenda (What)
- Attendees list (Who)
- Document (helps to discuss the What)
- Outcome (Goals you actually achieved during the meeting)
- Next steps (except for Share meetings)
- Notes sent to all attendees (includes outcomes and next steps description)
We’ve made these 7 points mandatory for every meeting.
Concretely, DREAM meetings are for brainstorming on big topics at a company level (strategy, organization, vision…). For this type of meeting, you will often have a pitch deck and a framework to conduct the brainstorming. As for the next steps, you should expect a date for a future DESIGN meeting which will be based on the structured notes you have taken from your DREAM meeting.
During DESIGN meetings, teams debate on problems and list potential solutions and their pros and cons, plus any supporting data. The next steps for this type of meeting are about getting a decision either by sharing a recommendation on a document and asking for (written) feedback, or by scheduling a DECIDE meeting.
A DECIDE meeting generally has a Q&A based on DESIGN meeting materials to try to come to specific decisions.
SHARE meetings can be used for two main purposes: to share a decision with concerned stakeholders (but again, if it’s possible to do this through writing, go for it!) or to share large topics that have to do with vision, company news (for instance, we schedule a monthly “Somehands” presentation to the whole company to share Back Market figures, projects, vision, and newcomers).
3rd Guideline: The 2 pizza rule (from Jeff Bezos)
Legend has it that Jeff Bezos, to avoid inefficiency, only allows meetings if 2 pizzas can feed all the attendees. At Back Market, we’ve decided to take a page from this and to ask the team to avoid scheduling meetings with more than 8 attendees (except for “SHARE” meetings of course)..
If you need the opinions of more than 8 people, it probably means you have to split the problem into smaller ones. There is no way you can lead a meeting of more than 8 people without wasting someone’s time.
4th Guideline: Leverage your tools
Every meeting comes with mandatory steps, which we break down into: invitation, preparation, and outcome. These steps are necessary for maximizing meeting effectiveness.
Invitation: use it to share value-added details
Calendar invitations are the very first step for every meeting. Most people are used to sending vague invitations in order to book slots in everyone's calendars but we believe this is a mistake: an invitation is the first opportunity to prepare for an efficient meeting.
That’s why we think that an invitation should include:
- An understandable title with the meeting type identified
- A room (even if you’re only two attendees and one of you is working remotely, having a room is always more convenient for a meeting )
- A Zoom link
- In the meeting description: Goals and agenda
- A link to the meeting’s supporting document(s)
Document: prepare your meeting!
For every type of meeting, a document is mandatory to create a framework for the meeting.
It’s good practice to send the document to attendees before the meeting and to ask them to read and comment in advance. This helps ensure everyone is adequately briefed and gives people time to think about what you might expect from them during the meeting.
In case they didn’t have the time to read the doc properly, spend 10 minutes for them to do so at the beginning of the meeting. This will help keep the focus on the topics that need to be covered.
Timing: start with easy-to-deal-with topics
Get easier-to-deal-with items out of the way first, and leave more complex topics for later, otherwise, you risk running out of time and energy.
See below an example of a brainstorming session:
Follow-up: no meeting without notes
At the end of the meeting, you should have reached the goals of the meeting. If not, the meeting owner decides if it needs another meeting.
In any case, the owner should send notes of the meeting (max 24h after the meeting).
These notes should include:
- Presented documents (mandatory)
- Key facts (optional)
- Next steps (mandatory) with action/decision Title + Why + Owner + ETA
5th Guideline: Shorten your meetings
Depending on the nature of the meeting, a meeting should last x - 5mins (or 10mins) to allow participants time to go to another meeting, go to the restroom, drink water, etc.
These are the durations we suggest for specific meeting types:
- DREAM: 1h55 max
- DESIGN: 1h55 max
- DECIDE: 25 min is the best — 45 min max including the reading of the doc.
- SHARE: 55 min max
This may sound trivial but it easily helps to save 8.3% of attendees’ time (5mins out of 60mins). Those are low-hanging fruit!
6th Guideline: Define expected behaviors and roles
At Back Market, we think great meetings can happen only with good behavior and clear roles.
Here’s what we’ve defined:
- Start on time, finish on time ( Editor’s note: the best way to be on time to your meetings is to be early)
- No IT (max 1 screen only, used by the meeting owner)
- Never interrupt and be concise (avoid repeating yourself)
- Don’t digress (or at least avoid it at much as possible)
- Give the mic to everyone (remote included 😉) & acknowledge every opinion
- The meeting owner sends the invitation with the agenda, prepares the meeting document, and leads the meeting. That means he is the Time Keeper who ends the meeting on time with clear next steps, owners, and ETA. He is also responsible to make participants follow the expected behaviors (see above)
- The note taker: meeting owner can delegate this task
- The decision-maker for DECIDE meetings: this can be the meeting owner but doesn’t have to be
In the end, we believe this philosophy has helped Back Market to be more productive as a company. Sharing these value-informed guidelines with the whole company has made all the Back Makers more reluctant about meetings (and warier of wasting time). That said, we think more steps are needed to create lasting change.
This is why we are launching concrete initiatives to ensure that this philosophy is put into practice and become consistent habits. In the coming weeks, we’ll publish another article on exactly how we’ve achieved this.
With love ❤,